Californians hold improving view of state, but partisan gulf widens

12/12/2013 12:00 AM

12/13/2013 4:52 AM

As California emerges from a recession and years of state budget deficits, the electorate is growing cheerier about life in the Golden State.

But the chasm between Democrats and Republicans has widened, according to a new Field Poll, and the view from the right is not so bright.

While 53 percent of Democrats say California is one of the best places to live, just 29 percent of Republicans rate the state so favorably, according to the poll. The gulf between Republicans and Democrats is more than 10 percentage points wider than two years ago.

Positivity also varies widely from the state’s coastal areas to its more conservative, inland reaches. Forty-seven percent of voters living in coastal counties say California is one of the best places to live; only 34 percent of inland county residents share that view.

The differences suggest not only the unevenness of the economic recovery in California, but also the difficulty of belonging to the political minority in a state where Democrats control the Legislature and every statewide office.

“The hyper-partisanship that is now characterizing our politics both at the national level and here in California is affecting how voters view the state,” poll director Mark DiCamillo said. “This movement toward this very Democratic state is now viewed negatively by Republicans and conservatives, and it’s affecting their outlook on the whole state.”

Overall, 43 percent of registered voters say California is one of the best places to live, while 26 percent call it nice but not outstanding, according to the poll. Twenty-one percent of registered voters say the state is average, and 8 percent say it is a poor place to live.

The assessment is more positive than in 2011, when 39 percent of registered voters called the state one of the best places to live, but still lower than just before the recession. In 2007, half of California voters ranked the state among the best.

The state’s improving outlook is largely a product of public opinion in the heavily populated San Francisco and Los Angeles areas. People are nowhere happier than in the San Francisco Bay Area, where 54 percent of voters say California is one of the best places to live, according to the poll. In the Central Valley, the proportion of voters who feel so content is more than 20 percentage points lower, at 33 percent.

“The quality of our life has gone down,” said James Petty, a 74-year-old Republican from Visalia. “Every time you turn around the wackos there in Sacramento – since the Democrats are the majority – whatever they want, they just pass through.”

Petty, a retired grocery store clerk, is upset about the state’s immigration policies, welfare and what he considers to be a proliferation of marijuana. He said he would leave the state if his grandchildren didn’t live here.

“I still like California,” Petty said. “I just don’t like the way they’re running it.”

In a series of questions about life in California, a majority of voters – 55 percent – say the quality of life in this state is better than in most other states, while 18 percent say it is worse and 22 percent say it is no different, according to the poll.

A plurality of voters – 38 percent – say job opportunities in California are similar to job opportunities in other states, according to the poll. Yet the gulf between the Central Valley and coastal California is evident in this economic indicator, too. In inland California, where the unemployment rate in many counties remains above 10 percent, 37 percent of registered voters say job opportunities are worse than in other states, compared to 30 percent who feel this way statewide.

David Ramczyk, who owns an agricultural products and consulting business in Modesto, said unemployment and the shortcomings of public education have contributed to increased drug use and crime in his community.

“As far as I’m concerned, your entire society is in kind of a state of devolution,” the 66-year-old said. “I think that we don’t have the same standards, the same values or anything.”

For Republicans like Petty and Ramczyk, “there’s very little they can do,” DiCamillo said, in a state where their party’s voter registration has fallen below 30 percent.

“Their political view has very little sway in the way the state is governed, and it becomes a negative when they’re assessing the state as a place to live,” he said. “They’re frustrated, and they downgrade the state accordingly.”

Younger and older voters are more likely to view the state more favorably than the middle-aged, according to the poll. Fifty-one percent of voters 65 and older and 46 percent of voters under 40 say California is one of the best places to live, dropping to 37 percent for voters ages 40 to 64.

The only question on which there is broad, bipartisan agreement concerns the cost of living, which 92 percent of voters agree is higher in California than in other states.

That may not bother them, however.

“If something’s going to be so great, of course it’s going to cost more,” said Mark Jennett, a 19-year-old independent voter from Sacramento.

Jennett, a student at Cosumnes River College, lauded state policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the friendliness of customers at his place of employment, GNC.

“Everything about California just seems nice,” he said.

Despite their improving view of California over two years ago, Californians hold the state in nowhere near as high regard as they once did. From the late 1960s through the mid-1980s, 70 percent or more of Californians rated the state as one of the best places to live.

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