For Californians, It’s All about Covid-19 and the Economy

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

The latest Public Policy Institute of California poll clearly shows that Californians are focused on the health threat of Covid-19 and its obvious destructive effects on jobs and the economy.

Likely voters ranked the Covid-19 issue as the most important issue facing the state at 35%; jobs and the economy was second at 25% and nothing else hit double figures. Health care concerns scored 5%, the state budget was considered the most important issue by 3% while schools were at 1%.

The one-two punch of coronavirus and the economy was across the board with Democrats, Republicans and Independents all ranking the issue first and second, respectively. Interestingly, in the populous Los Angeles region, likely voters picked jobs and the economy first at 33% ahead of Covid-19 at 29%, even though Los Angeles is the state hotspot for coronavirus. Fifty-eight percent of Californians were either very concerned or somewhat concerned that they would end up in a hospital because of Covid-19.

It is important to note that this poll’s snapshot in time was taken before the recent protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. If voters were asked today what the biggest issue is for California, answers might include more responses about justice or social welfare. The poll came out of the field one day after the death of Floyd and before the protests gathered full steam and national attention.

But the survey did contain some surprises. Despite the news of budget cuts for schools, the education communities’ complaints about funding, the issue of home and distance learning and school closures because of Covid-19, the poll’s category of education, schools and teachers never topped 2% as the most important issue with any political party, ideological group or state region.

Emphasis on the economy was not surprising given the poll respondents conviction that California was suffering an economic recession. Nearly 70% of likely voters recognized that California is in a recession; 38% of likely voters agreed the recession is serious, 23% saw a moderate recession and an additional 8% believed the recession is mild.

Currently, 57% of likely voters said their personal finances were in excellent or good shape, 44% chose fair and poor. How will those numbers change when the stimulus money peters out and not all jobs return as the economy opens very slowly?

At this juncture, 28% of likely voters report that someone in their household lost a job while 71% answered no. However, nearly half said that work hours were reduced for someone in the household.

While likely voters were generally split on whether they favored or opposed the governor’s budget to deal with the economic realities of the moment, they were clear that they did not want taxes to fill the budget hole. That conclusion was reached despite the fact that 52% of the likely voters believe the budget situation—defined in the survey as the balance between spending and revenue–is a big problem and 33% said it was somewhat of a problem.

Still, by a two-to-one margin, poll respondents said taxes are not the answer. While 34% of likely voters supported more taxes, 60% opposed. The numbers were almost identical for all adults.

So, what does all this mean? Most immediately the poll findings might influence the legislators when they fashion a final budget over the next two weeks. Yesterday, the Democrats in the legislature announced an agreement on a budget proposal that still has to pass.

Major tax increases were not part of either the governor’s or the legislature’s budget proposals. Given the poll results, that is a smart political move. Taxes would be an uphill climb although we must recognize that California has a Democratic-dominated legislature and Democratic voters are a little more friendly to tax increases. But even with Democrats who responded to the poll, the numbers on tax increases were still negative with 43% of Democrats okaying the idea of taxes to deal with the budget and 50% opposed. Only 15% of Republicans agreed with a tax increase solution, 81% opposed. Independent voters leaned closer to the Republican position with 27% supporting taxes and 65% opposed.

Looking down the road at the big upcoming ballot measures voters will decide in November, there are some early telltale signs on how things might go, although there is plenty of time and expected vociferous campaigns coming to change voters’ attitudes.

Certainly, a change of emphasis on justice issues as generated by recent protests could affect a couple of state ballot measures in November—the no cash bail bill referendum and the reform of a previous initiative that would toughen parole and sentencing laws.

A rent control initiative is facing the current poll numbers that 81% of likely voters say they have no trouble paying rent or mortgage. Even 71% of likely voters in households that earn less than $40,000 yearly say they currently can manage the rent.

Voters’ attitude on jobs and the economy could play a huge role in November. With 73% of likely voters thinking California’s economy will suffer over the next 12 months and that the state will experience bad financial times over the course of the year, the troubled mood about jobs and the economy is likely to stick.

That would make the case to change Proposition 13 by raising taxes on commercial property and its subsequent effect on consumer prices, businesses, jobs and the economy a difficult undertaking. The concern about the jobs issue will also play a role with the measure to alter AB 5 for delivery and app-drivers.

But this is now…we’ll see what comes.

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