Who says Californians can’t come to agreement on anything?

In fact, we seem to have reached a significant consensus: we’ve given up on legislative democracy.

Perhaps that overstates things, but the most recent poll numbers from Field suggest that Californians’ have had it with lawmakers. The survey results are nearly identical, with Californians not distinguishing between the state legislature of the U.S. Congress.

For the state legislature, 13 percent of Californians surveyed approve of the legislature’s job performance; and just 12 percent approve of Congress’ job performance. Seventy-eight percent disapprove of the legislature, and 79 percent disapprove. And these ratings aren’t much different between the parties. Democrats and Republicans alike give very low approval ratings to these legislative bodies.
Mark DiCamillo of Field told me Tuesday that it is “unusual” for Californians’ views of both the legislature and the Congress to be so similar. He cited public frustration with the partisanship and ineffectiveness of each body in a time of urgent economic and budget challenges.

Here are a few additional explanations of my own. Californians have little choice over who they send to Sacramento and Washington, and often can’t identify who their Congressman or Assemblyman is. Most lawmakers are elected to office with the votes of a relatively small percentage of the people who live in their districts.

Voters also seem to turning legislators into scapegoats, who are in the impossible position of representing a public that seems committed to a “something for nothing” philosophy of high government services and low taxes. In California, lawmakers are little more than a clean-up crew for the fiscal messes created by a broken budget system.

What does this mean politically? Major proposals, including the government reforms advanced by California Forward, may be slow to attract public support if they become too identified with the legislature. And we should expect to see more of Meg Whitman imperiously promising to manage lawmakers as if they were eBay employees, organizing them into teams to implement her agenda. Lawmakers don’t like it, but voters, who have had it with legislators, may respond to such proposals.

And of course, this is likely to be a big year for direct democracy and initiatives – and not only in California. Public frustration with lawmakers is an American phenomenon. One under-reported story of this political year is the ongoing effort to expand or add initiative and referendum in other states, most notably Connecticut.

Californians aren’t the only people who, when it comes to government, prefer to do it themselves.