Survey: Californians Surprisingly Optimistic, Despite Doom and Gloom

Survey: Californians Surprisingly Optimistic, Despite Doom and Gloom

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SAN FRANCISCO—Californians may be seriously worried about the state of their state, but they are also overwhelmingly optimistic that its many problems can be solved and that its government can be functional once more, according to a new poll.

The survey, by the reform group California Forward, found that a whopping 98 percent of Californians believe problems with state government are at least somewhat serious. Four out of five respondents said that these problems are having an impact on their daily lives.

Yet 86 percent of those same Californians said it is possible for the state to function more efficiently and effectively. The top three solutions they endorsed are: getting rid of programs that don’t produce results; requiring government to measure the effectiveness of programs; and issuing regular reports on the results of all government programs.

What’s more, respondents indicated that they were surprisingly satisfied with how their city and county governments are already being run. Some 68 percent said they trusted their local elected leaders to make good decisions some or most of the time. Only 51 of expressed the same level of trust for elected leaders in Sacramento.

SEE RELATED COMMENTARY: Seize the Moment: California's Rare Opportunity to Fix Its Broken Government

"This survey confirms what California Forward believes to be true: Californians believe our state is governable, and we must restore accountability, efficiency and trust to state and local government," Bob Hertzberg, a former state lawmaker who serves as co-chair of California Forward’s leadership council, said in a statement.

“This is a far cry from the doom and gloom we consistently hear from public surveys,” added Eugene J. Voiland, another member of the leadership council and chairman of Valley Republic Bank. “[Still,] mistrust and a lack of accountability over many years stand in the way of major reform. … The politicians in Sacramento must listen to their constituents and engage them, to regain their trust.”

The poll comes as Governor Jerry Brown and state lawmakers wrangle over a $25 billion budget deficit, the worst in state history, which is forcing drastic cuts to higher education and the social safety net. These and other problems—as well as a fight between Democrats and Republicans over allowing voters to decide on a $12 billion tax extension needed to save K-12 public schools from even worse cuts—have led many observers around the country to dismiss California as a “failed state.”

But in its poll of 1,020 Californians who mirror the state’s population, California Forward found that the state’s residents are not ready to give up quite yet.

Nearly seven out of 10 respondents said solving the state’s problems means giving local communities more control over some programs and making it easier for local communities to raise revenue.

Some 74 percent agreed that modifying the initiative process to reduce the influence of special interests is also an important step.

At the same time, the poll also makes clear that recession-battered Californians continue to have little appetite for raising taxes. Only 23 percent agreed with the notion that “taxes need to be higher to pay for the services Californians need.” Sixty percent said they favored keeping taxes low even if it means spending will have to be reduced for most state programs.

Those findings mirror the results of the November elections, in which voters rejected a ballot measure to raise fees to fund state parks while passing another measure that requires lawmakers to get a two-thirds majority before assessing certain fees against businesses.

According to the poll, the top three problems with government are too much bureaucracy, waste and fraud; leaders who don’t listen to “regular people”; and elected officials who aren’t held accountable for their decisions. A smaller proportion (58 percent) cited lack of money as a key problem plaguing the state.

The online survey was conducted from from Dec 9-19, 2010. It is the first in a series of "California Viewpoints" surveys on attitudes toward state government and reform.

California Forward’s founders and major funders include the James Irvine Foundation, a longtime supporter of New America Media.