California Voters are Anxious

Reports of steady growth and low unemployment cheer political leaders, but voters are disturbed by decaying public order and an unaffordable cost of living, according to a recently released CalChamber poll, The People’s Voice, 2019.

One of the not-so-surprising consequences of this anxiety is reluctance to embrace new taxes to pay for even popular ideas. But top of mind for voters is the erosion of public order.

Central to that perception is homelessness. Fully half of voters say they see homeless people on the street more than five times a week. Three out of four voters say homelessness has gotten worse in California, and their perception is not much better in their own communities, where 64 percent of voters say homelessness has gotten worse.

Regarding proposed solutions, voters indicate a mix of compassion and no-nonsense. Voters most strongly supported:

– Funding more mental health and homeless service centers specifically focused on serving homeless populations (91% support; 60% strong support).

– Involuntary commitment of homeless individuals who have severe mental/behavioral issues that may be a danger or harm to themselves or others in the community (89% support; 49% strong support).

Another take on public order is growing unease over public safety. 79 percent agree (41% strongly) that homelessness and criminal behavior have become rampant throughout California. 73 percent agree (37% strongly) that street crime, shoplifting and car theft have become rampant throughout California. And 60 percent agree (25% strongly) with the statement, “I no longer feel safe because of the danger and disorder in society today.”

Voters are also anxious about the economy. Job creation has been strong over the past decade, and voters have recognized this. But while the perception of new job creation has been increasing since 2015, this year it flat-lined. About 2/3rds of voters have a positive impression of job creation, the same as last year.

The major differences are regional. Voters in the San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego/Orange/Los Angeles counties perceive very strong job creation, while inland voters in the Central Valley and Inland Empire are more pessimistic.

The central anxiety for voters is affordability.

Nine of ten voters agree that “earning enough to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle is becoming almost impossible in my part of California,” with 52% – an absolute majority – strongly agreeing with that statement.

Most sobering, a record high two out of three voters with children living at home say their kids “will have a better future if they leave California.” More than a third (36 percent) strongly agree with this statement – a nine percentage point jump from 2018. This should be a flashing caution sign to policy makers to address affordability issues for rising generations of Californians.

These concerns explain voters’ lasting attachment to Proposition 13. Eighty percent of voters have a favorable view of Prop 13, including 46 percent who are strongly favorable. Three-quarters of renters have a favorable view of Prop 13, as do young people and Democrats. Strong support for Prop 13 has remained consistent for many years.

Property taxes are not the only forbidden territory marked out by voters. Recent interest in applying the state sales tax to services used and paid by businesses is not shared by voters. By a 71 percent to 39 percent margin, voters rejected extending the sales tax to business services.

The CalChamber poll was conducted from September 24 to 28, 2019, with 1,000 online interviews of likely 2020 general election voters. The margin of error for the study is +/- 3.1% at the 95% confidence level.

Loren Kaye, President, California Foundation for Commerce and Education