Change in Priorities for California Voters

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

The new Public Policy Institute of California poll shows a continuing trend in voters moving their top priority in state spending from K-12 education to health and human services. The homelessness issue is undoubtedly fueling that movement. 

Looking at the current PPIC poll issued yesterday, there is little space between voters’ choosing the top two concerns for California government spending. PPIC asked likely voters which area of state government spending should be the top priority. Likely voters chose health and human services at 40%; K-12 public education 38%; higher education 12% and prisons and corrections 7%. All Adults polled broke dead even on health and human services and K-12 public education at 39% apiece. 

The PPIC release accompanying the poll noted that Californians were slightly more likely to name K-12 public education as the top priority for state spending last January. So there seems to be only a slight difference between the two areas.

But take a look at the trend over the last four years of likely voter responses to the same question.

In January 2015 when PPIC asked the question, 57% of likely voters chose K-12 public education as the first priority. Health and human services got 19%, just above higher education at 17%.

The trends generally continued as measured by the PPIC January polls in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 with K-12 education dropping percentage points and health and human services gaining. No loss or gain was more than 5%—until this year.

The change from 2019 to 2020 for both K-12 public education and health and human services was much more dramatic. K-12 lost 11% from last year as the top priority for likely voters, dropping from 49% to 38%. Health and human services gained 10% from 30% to 40%.

Look no further than the question on the top concern for California voters to find the reason for the shift.

When asked which one issue the governor and legislators should work on in 2020, homelessness topped the list by more than two to one. Likely voters chose homelessness as the top priority at 23% over the second closest concern, housing costs, at 11%.

In another sign of changing priorities for likely voters, jobs and the economy, usually one or two on past lists of concerns, was fifth at 7%, although certainly within the margin of error of the two items before it: environment, pollution, global warming at 9%; immigration, illegal immigration at 8%.

Education funding was not in the top five.  If the new attitudes hold, that could be a significant factor come election time.

Mark Baldassare, PPIC president, CEO and poll master observed as voters go to the polls to vote on tax increases for education measures: “This recent shift in spending priorities could have implications for California voters support for K-12 spending measures in the 2020 election cycle.” 

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