An annual ritual around this time each year accompanies the Public Policy Institute of California poll release. PPIC asks voters how the state budget prioritizes spending and I point out that the poll respondents continually get the order wrong. Which begs the question: How much weight to put in the other responses recorded by the poll on state spending issues?

PPIC annually lists four of the largest areas of the state budget and asks which area represents the greatest spending. This year, most likely voters responded that Health and Human Services get the most money (35%). Coming in close behind, 32% of likely voters chose Prisons and Corrections. Other likely voters selected K-12 Public Education (20%) and Higher Education (8%).

PPIC’s analysis of the proposed 2019-2020 state budget sets the facts straight. K-12 Education gets the most money, followed by Health and Human Services, Higher Education, with Prisons bringing up the rear.

What explains the knowledge gap about the state budget with voters probably has a lot to do with the political environment. Teacher strikes and complaints about lack of school funding have voters believing the state budget is shortchanging education. Stories of too many prisoners unfairly imprisoned as reflected in recent social justice and bail reform debates contribute to the impression that much is spent on prisons.

When likely voters are asked what area of the state budget should receive the most money the responses fall in line to what the state actually spends. Likely voters chose K-12 education as the top priority (49%), followed by Health and Human Services (30%), Higher Education (15%) and Prisons and Rehabilitation (4%).

But the fact that voters do not have a correct understanding of the state’s budget spending undoubtedly colors their attitudes on how the state should conduct its business. That is particularly important when you consider the finding of another PPIC poll question asking when it comes to tough choices involved with the state budget is it preferable that the governor and legislature make all the decisions or that voters make some of the spending decisions at the ballot?

Likely voters want the people to have a say at the ballot at 78% to a mere 18% choosing the governor and legislators making the decisions.

When PPIC asks if the balance between spending and revenues in the state budget is a big problem or not, you have to view the answers cautiously. If most voters don’t know how the state spends money now, how would they know how big a budget problem the state has?

Looking at the voters’ preferences they probably would land in the same place as the legislators and governor do with budget preferences. But it would be best for the state as a whole for voters to have a better understanding of state spending.

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A couple of other interesting notes about the poll:

The issue of greatest concern for policymakers and journalists seems to be California’s housing crisis. However, that does not shape up as a top concern with voters.

Housing ranked behind immigration, education, jobs and the economy, environment, homelessness and state fiscal and tax issues. Housing was named by 6% of the voters as the top concern.

On the issue of illegal immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border, likely voters were asked if it were a crisis, a serious problem, not a serious problem or no problem. Only 1% of the respondents declared it was no problem with most respondents saying it was a problem to some degree.

Another interesting finding, on the question of whether Americans of different political views can come together to work out their differences, the voters are, well, divided. Almost right down the middle. 48% were optimistic this could happen, 49% were pessimistic. The divide carried right through many categories broken down in the poll. The optimistic number is listed first: Democrats 51-48; Republicans 47-51; Independents 48-49; Male 50-48; Female 47-49.


You can find the full poll results here.