Capitol Alert

Ronald Reagan was president the last time the California Legislature was so popular

The Democratic-controlled Legislature is viewed more favorably by voters than at any time in nearly three decades, and Gov. Jerry Brown’s job performance has hit record highs, according to a new statewide poll released late Tuesday.

The Berkeley IGS survey found a strong majority – 57 percent – approve of the Legislature’s performance, a seven-point increase over September, when IGS and the Field Poll last took the pulse of the electorate. Before that, the Field Poll consistently found the average approval below 50 percent since 1988, Ronald Reagan’s last year as president.

“The Legislature can take some pleasure out of this,” said Poll Director Mark DiCamillo. “And I don’t blame them.”

The poll provides no data legitimizing the idea that Democratic lawmakers’ hardline stances on Republican President Donald Trump have moved the needle.

Analysts have historically pointed to the economy and the way lawmakers have handled the state budget as major factors shaping voters’ perceptions.

Brown is benefiting, too, as 61 percent approve of the job he is doing. The nearly 79-year-old Democrat is at his highest point since returning to the office in 2011. Brown’s approval rating was similar in September.

The low point for the Legislature came during the depths of the recession, when its approval plunged into the mid-teens amid a $40 billion budget deficit.

But as California clawed back from the brink, aided by the economic recovery and, to a degree, passage of the Proposition 30 sales and income tax measure in 2012, there has been a consistent thaw. Approval averaged 20 percent in 2011, climbing to 38 percent in 2013, and hitting 42 percent in February 2015.

A separate measure, Proposition 25 in 2010, may also have contributed to the improvement. The initiative lowered the vote threshold to pass the state budget from two-thirds to a majority in an attempt to avert protracted budget showdowns.

DiCamillo said the budget fights, which generated pitched media coverage, crystallized for voters the belief that Sacramento was mired in dysfunction.

Californians “pretty much look at the kinds of news that is coming out of Sacramento and whether that news is positive or negative,” he said.

The poll also showed sharp divergences in how California voters view the direction of the state versus the trajectory of the nation, led by Trump. Fifty-four percent say California is moving in the right direction, while 64 percent see the nation as on the wrong track.

Views on the questions are decidedly partisan.

The September survey had Democrats, at 57 percent to 42 percent, believing the country was heading in the right direction. Republicans, at 85 percent to 15 percent, viewed the country as seriously on the wrong track.

But the latest poll saw the reverse. Democrats are the ones who say the nation as seriously heading in the wrong direction, 82 percent to 18 percent, while Republicans see nation as on the right track, 74 percent to 26 percent.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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