The Public Policy Institute took the temperature of the California electorate on a myriad of issues and once again voters have demonstrated an inconsistency in their approach to government. When it comes to the question if government should spend more or limit spending the voters seem to be telling the pollsters: “Let’s do both!”

When poll respondents were asked if they wanted to increase spending on four of the state’s major budget items, on the whole they were for more spending – overwhelmingly. K-12 public education received 81% support for increased spending; higher education spending increases garnered 75% agreement; while increased spending for health and human services was supported by 66%. Only prison spending didn’t receive sympathy from those polled with only 23% saying to spend more.

PPIC also queried the voters on whether they favored or opposed strictly limiting state spending increases each year. A solid 60% said they wanted a spending limit.

On one hand the voters were for more spending on the budget’s big ticket items, on the other hand they want to strictly limit spending.

What gives?

The answer may be found in questions asked earlier in the poll.

Answers to those questions revealed that most voters have little knowledge about the state budget.

Only 17% of the voters understood that K-12 makes up the largest piece of the General Fund budget. Meanwhile, 38% chose prisons as the largest area of state spending, which actually receives the smallest portion of the General Fund in the four categories tested.

There were some telling differences between political party supporters in the polling. For instance, by a two-to-one margin more Republicans than Democrats knew that schools received the largest piece of the state budget. But before Republicans pat themselves on the back, only 29% of Republicans picked the correct answer.

Are these polls helpful to government officials who craft policy? Probably, California officials would not be as dismissive as former Alaska governor Sarah Palin who purportedly said, “Polls … they’re for strippers and cross country skiers.”

However, following polls as a guide star to set up policy decisions is a mistake. One thing that needs to be done is to educate the voters on how the government spends its money. If that is carried out effectively, voters can give officials clearer instruction of where they want to be led.

My bet: If the voters were educated about actual state spending they would opt for a spending limit over greater spending.

Find the entire poll here.