Yesterday, two polls came out certain to warm Governor Jerry Brown as both polls by the Public Policy Institute of California and the California Business Roundtable/Pepperdine Public Policy School support his school funding policy and the budget he presented to the legislature. But what exactly do these polls represent? The question arises because the Roundtable/Pepperdine poll asked those polled if the governor’s budget showed a surplus or a deficit. The majority of respondents gave the wrong answer.

Overall 26.6% said the budget was in surplus; 57.6% said the budget was in deficit.

Only 4.6% were “Very certain it’s a budget surplus” while 22.2% were “Very certain it’s a budget deficit.” Democrats came closer to the truth about the budget than either Republicans or No Party Preference voters, but Democrats by a 32%-47% margin still believed the budget was in deficit.

The governor has been praised in many quarters for not only presenting a balanced budget, but one that has surplus revenues. The Legislative Analyst projects the surplus higher than the governor setting up a battle between the governor and legislature on how much money to spend.

But despite all that hoopla, more than twice as many poll respondents said the state has no money.

Pepperdine professor Michael Shires suggests this attitude could be the result of the battle over money that has flared up, giving voters the impression that there is not enough money to go around. A cynic might note that there never seems to be enough money when it comes to those advocating for more government spending.

But, the response to the budget query still begs the question: How much value is there in the polls’ answers when respondents do not have the correct knowledge about the budget?

The Roundtable/Pepperdine poll was conducted by M4 Strategies, which is coming off an impressive stint as part of the team that predicted (for the Los Angeles Times and USC) the L.A. mayor’s race within one-percentage point.

Jeff Harrelson of M4 explained the result of the budget question.

“Voters aren’t real engaged right now with the political process.  We just came off of a hard fought presidential campaign and a number of contentious ballot initiatives, so state budgets aren’t the first thing on voters’ minds.

When given the choice between operating between the LAO surplus projections and the governor’s more conservative projections, voters sided with the more conservative approach.  Second – voters establish their own budget priorities as paying down debt and taking care of schools, so its not a surprise that the governor’s proposed additional one time funding commitment receives solid support.

I think the bottom line is that voters are looking for and supporting a conservative approach to dealing the state’s finances.”

The Roundtable/Pepperdine poll supported the governor’s plan to give $1 billion to the schools to implement recently adopted academic standards by 56.4% to 28.8%. The governor’s proposal to give even more money to low-income and English language learners was supported by 54.5% to 33.8%.

The PPIC poll, asking questions differently, found 61% support for the governor’s budget. The idea of spending $1 billion on core standards received 73% support and the additional funding for low-income and English language learners garnered 77% support.

You can find the Roundtable/Pepperdine poll here and the PPIC poll here.