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The Latest Hoover Golden State Poll: Open Primary, Wide-Open Field; Policy Differences Between Voters and Sacramento

Thursday, May 29, 2014

On Tuesday, Californians go to the polls in the first of the year’s two statewide votes. The “open primary” – so-called because voters can choose any candidate they prefer, with the top-two finishers in state and congressional races advancing to the general election regardless of party affiliation – is a test of political reform in the Golden State. Are Californians more or less interested in their choices given this new latitude, or is it business as usual?

The primary also comes in advance of June’s traditional big storyline in Sacramento: negotiating a budget before California’s June 15 constitutional and July 1 fiscal deadlines.

In this, the third Hoover Golden State Poll, we asked voters for their thoughts on the open primary. And we looked for insight as to who might finish second in the gubernatorial primary, with Gov. Jerry Brown the decided frontrunner.

The survey – a sampling of 1,000 Californians taken earlier this month in conjunction with YouGov, an online research and consulting organization – was released earlier this morning.

Some highlights:

Brown is the prohibitive favorite (36%); second-place is still a wide-open affair between two lesser-known Republicans, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (12%) and businessman Neel Kashkari (5%).

  • The undecided vote is pivotal. 42% of Republicans and 40% of independents have yet to make up their minds – overall, 35% of respondents are undecided;
  • As for the open primary, voters have mixed feelings: 41% say they’re more interested in candidates as a result; 40% feel little different.

The survey’s budget shows Californians and their elected leaders differ on fiscal priorities.

  • Given 11 options as to what do with the projected $2.2 state billion budget surplus, voters prefer a taxpayer refund (20%), followed by K-12 education (14%), addressing the state’s drought by improving water resources (13%) and building a rainy-day fund (12%).
  • Expanding preschool – a source of contention between Gov. Brown and State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg – finishes last among 11 choices with only 2%. Just as high-speed rail, a lead priority for Gov. Brown, finished last among 20 policy priorities in January’s Golden State Poll.

The survey also asked Californians to reflect on the recent string of ethics scandals in Sacramento, with three state senators suspended for voter fraud and allegations of bribes and criminal conspiracies.

  • Voters spread the blame: 28% say it’s due to a poor legislative culture; 27% say it’s too much money in politics; 27% say it’s a lack of personal character.

As with the previous two Golden State Polls, this latest survey also delved into Californians’ economic confidence and well-being.  Our May findings confirm what voters have been telling since last fall: despite better economic numbers and rosier forecasts, voters are in a wary mood.

  • More than twice as many Californians say they’re financially worse off (34%) than better off (15%) versus a year ago, with a near-majority (47%) feeling about the same.
  • A majority of Californians (54%) thinks their family’s financial situation will be the same six months from now – the better- and worse-off factions each receiving (19%).
  • More Californians are unconfident (49%) than confident (46%) in their chances of making a lateral job move within six months.

A more detailed explanation of the survey’s findings, can be found on Defining Ideas, the Hoover Institution’s online journal, in an analysis written by  Hoover research fellow Carson Bruno.

Click here to view the survey itself (September’s survey can be found here and December/January’s here).