A new PPIC poll finds that more Californians think their elected officials are doing a good job.
But what do Californians know?
Not much, as the same poll found. Indeed, it’s hard to give much credit to the opinion of Californians when it comes to government since they don’t know the first thing about their own. Just a third of adults surveyed in the poll knew that the personal income tax brings in the most revenue for the state—a fact worth remembering when you start hearing sponsors of tax-related ballot initiatives say that we should trust people to make decisions on tax hikes on next year’s ballots.
Only 15 percent of adults surveyed knew that K-12 education was the largest spending area in the budget—which should undermine the notion that when voters approve a budget ballot measure like Prop 2, they are offering some reasoned, informed endorsement of its particulars.
Combined, just five percent of those surveyed answered both questions – on taxes and spending – correctly.
So when 57 percent say the state is going in the right direction and 59 percent say the governor and legislature will be able to accomplish a lot in the next year, an appropriate response is: well, so what?
This public ignorance is not new – it’s been a feature of polls for years. What to do about it? I’m probably wasting my breath by suggesting this, but I’ll try anyway – why shouldn’t civic groups and the news media, instead of bemoaning such figures, see them as a challenge?
Why not make it a priority to increase public knowledge of the basics of governance – pick a few facts, including those tested in the PPIC poll, and make sure to mention them over and over again, in virtually every budget story. Make it a point of emphasis—and see if we can bump up the numbers. Yes, it’d be a campaign (which makes media people nervous), but it’d be the kind of campaign media should embrace — to reverse public misinformation.
Would it be too ambitious a goal to get half of Californians to know from where state budget funds come, and where those funds go?