Californians feel better about the direction of the state and the performance of the Legislature than they did four years ago, when budget stand-offs paralyzed state government for months on end. But their view of state lawmakers still tilts more negative than positive.
Those are findings from a newly released Field Poll, which found that 43 percent of California voters believe the state is moving in the right direction, compared with 41 percent who say it’s on the wrong track. In 2010 – the year partisan gridlock stalled budget negotiations more than three months past the constitutional deadline – 80 percent of voters said California was on the wrong track.
The improvement in voters’ outlook likely reflects a healing economy and a state government that functions better, said Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo.
“They are just in a much more positive frame of mind now,” DiCamillo said.
Voters approved a change to state law in 2010 that allowed the Legislature to pass a budget with a simple-majority vote, instead of a two-thirds vote. That leaves the majority Democrats in control and not obligated to negotiate with Republicans.
Not surprisingly, the Field Poll found that Republicans’ views of the state are not as rosy as Democrats’. Twenty-one percent of Republicans said the state is going in the right direction, compared to 58 percent of Democrats who held that view.
“What’s interesting is the two-state mentality of Californians,” DiCamillo said. “The coastal counties are much more positive in their assessments, and that is what is pulling the train forward in the ‘right direction’ (response). But the inland counties – they have been negative and they continue to be negative.”
Christopher Lincoln, a former Republican now registered with the American Independent party, told the Field Poll he disapproves of the Legislature and thinks California is on the wrong track. A lifelong building contractor, he says he’s had a hard time finding construction work in the Kings County area where he lives, and he blames lawmakers.
“Over the years they have enacted law after law, regulation after regulation ... (forming) all these government agencies, and they’ve literally destroyed the construction business,” said Lincoln, 62.
Another survey respondent said he’s happy with the Legislature and the direction California is heading in.
“There was a budget problem – they got that resolved and moved forward,” said Daniel Dowdy, a 54-year-old Democrat who lives in Roseville.
“We’ve seen how when that happens in Washington we have gridlock, and government comes to a complete halt or standstill. We avoided that in California, and I think that’s positive.”
The survey found that 34 percent of Californians approve of the job the Legislature is doing, while 42 percent disapprove. Recent scandals in the Legislature have not tainted Dowdy’s view. Two senators this year were indicted on federal corruption charges, one senator is awaiting sentencing on perjury charges, and another senator was arrested last month on suspicion of drunken driving.
“I’m a little hesitant to condemn someone until they are convicted,” said Dowdy, who is taking a break from his job as a tax attorney while he writes a book.
“If they break the law they should pay the same penalty as everyone else does. But I don’t think we should let it color our view of the entire Legislature.”