California's "Comeback"

Tuesday, January 13, 2015
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Californians continue to rank economic and pocketbook issues among their top priorities, according to a poll commissioned by the Hoover Institution and conducted by the public opinion firm YouGov. The December/January edition of the Hoover Golden State Poll surveyed 1,699 Californians between December 9, 2014 and January 4, 2015 and had a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent. Generally, the poll surveyed respondents on their views about the policy priorities that should occupy Governor Jerry Brown’s final term in office; their trust in the institutions of government; and their own confidence in California’s economy and the status of their personal finances.

Top Priorities

Most notably, the survey examined respondents’ opinions regarding the top priorities facing our state government. (Note that this question was asked specifically of a subsample of 957 most likely voters in our survey). Nearly three-quarters of respondents in the subsample identified strengthening the state’s economy as a top priority for California’s state government in 2015. It’s noteworthy that interest in the dealing with the state’s water problems has skyrocketed: While only 38% of respondents thought that the state’s water problems were a top priority in 2014, almost 70% felt that way in this poll. In contrast, just 16% of respondents in our subsample reported that continuing the state’s high-speed rail project was a top priority.

But a closer look at the data reveals some interesting trends.

First, more respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 identified the state’s water problems as a top priority (74%) than strengthening the state’s economy (66%). A similar trend was observed amongst self-identified Democrats, where more identified the state’s water problems as a top priority (76%) than strengthening the state’s economy (67%).

Second, self-identified Republicans placed the strongest emphasis on strengthening the state’s economy and balancing California’s budget; but dealing with the issue of illegal immigration and improving the job situation were not far behind. Moreover, conservatives were much more likely than liberals or moderates to identify illegal immigration as a “top priority” for Sacramento to deal with in 2015. Similarly, the broadest gap between Republicans and Democrats in their identification of top priorities was on the issue of illegal immigration -- nearly 50 points separated respondents from the different parties.

Third, certain issues more strongly resonated with particular racial and ethnic groups. For example, 76% of Asian respondents in the subsample concluded that reducing crime was a top priority, as compared to just 40% of White respondents; 48% of Black respondents; and 53% of Hispanic respondents. Improving California’s K-12 education system was of particular importance to Black respondents, with 60% identifying the issue as a top priority, compared to 45% of White respondents and 47% of Hispanic respondents. And Hispanic voters were particularly concerned with helping the poor and needy in California, and in reducing the state’s costs for the MediCal program, particularly as compared to White respondents.

Finally, there was broad agreement among those surveyed that continuing the state’s high-speed rail project should be dead last on Sacramento’s list of priorities. In fact, the only demographic group in our survey that did not rank it dead last was respondents between the ages of 18 and 34—they had a lower opinion of strengthening California’s gun laws.

Trust in Government and Governance Issues

The Hoover Golden State Poll also examined respondents’ views regarding the institutions of government they better trusted to handle the public policy challenges facing California. Here, too, the survey focused on most likely voters. There was a slight preference for local governments (41%) over the state government (34%), while the governor and the rest of the executive branch (35%) was better trusted than the state legislature (25%) to handle the issues facing the state. Republicans were more likely to trust the state legislature than the governor and the executive branch, notwithstanding the fact that Democrats hold significant majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. Meanwhile, young people (those aged 18-34) were, by a 15-point margin, more likely to trust the governor and the executive branch.

A majority of respondents in our subsample favored unified government, where the governor’s office and legislature are controlled by the same party, with a roughly even number supporting unified government with and without a supermajority in the state legislature. As one might expect, self-identified Republicans and conservatives were more likely to support divided government than were Democrats and liberals.

Economic Confidence

Although California’s unemployment rate dropped over a full percentage point between November 2013 and November 2014 (from 8.4 percent to 7.2 percent), respondents in our survey remain skeptical about the state of their own finances.

A near majority (49%) concluded that they are about the same financially as they were a year before, while just one in five responded that they were better off financially than a year before. Respondents without a college degree were more likely to report that they were worse off financially, as compared to a year ago, than those who had graduated from college. And those with a family income of less than $40,000 per year were almost twice as likely (34% - 16%) to report that they are worse off financially than they were a year ago.

Furthermore, about half of Californians expect their own economic condition to remain relatively stagnant over the next six months. Black respondents are the most bullish on their personal financial situation, with 40% expecting to be better off financially in six months (as compared to 23% of Whites, 32% of Hispanics, and 18% of Asians who believe they will be better off). In fact, by an almost 2-to-1 margin, respondents believe they will be better off (as opposed to worse off) financially in six months.

Finally, respondents have a mixed picture of the job market in California. Just under half (49%) are either very or somewhat confident that they’ll be able to find a new job in the state within six months that pays at least as much as they are making now. But 45% of respondents are either somewhat or very unconfident that they’ll do the same. The optimism in the job market is more pronounced among less well-educated and poorer respondents—51% of those with a high school education or less are either very or somewhat confident in their ability to find a comparable job within the next six months, while 52% of those making under $40,000 a year express the same confidence.


The December/January Hoover Golden State Poll paints a picture of a state that still has fundamental concerns about the state’s economic and job picture. While Governor Jerry Brown continues to talk about the “California Comeback,” it’s pretty clear from our poll that he and his colleagues in the legislature still have a lot of work left to do.