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Most voters say California is on the wrong track, new poll finds

A man in a suit gestures while speaking, flanked by the US and California flags.
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in San Francisco in November. | Source: Stephen Lam/SF Chronicle/POOL

Only a third of registered voters think California is moving in the right direction, while 57% think the state is off on the wrong track, according to a new poll by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California Berkeley.

A statement released with the poll results last week described the findings as “a somewhat more negative assessment than voters have given in measures taken over the past eleven years” of consistent and regular mood assessments by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, the state’s oldest public policy research center. The poll was co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.

Still, the pollsters added that the voters surveyed were not nearly as negative as they were during the nationwide economic crisis from 2008 to 2011, when 69% to 80% of state voters described California as headed in the wrong direction.

The latest poll found that voters are split on the question of whether Gov. Gavin Newsom is doing a good job leading the nation’s most populous state, with 46% approving of the governor’s performance and 47% disapproving. However, a third of voters said they strongly disapproved of Newsom’s performance, while just 17% said they strongly approved.

The results fell strongly along partisan lines, with 90% of Republicans saying they disapproved of the governor’s performance and 72% of Democrats saying they approved.

The survey took place just as Newsom has unveiled a $291.5 billion spending plan for the next fiscal year as well as plans to address a nearly $38 billion deficit projected by his administration.

The state analyst’s office pegs the number at a much more worrisome $58 billion for the 2024-25 fiscal year, which starts July 1. Either way, tough choices lie ahead for the governor, who is reportedly seeking to delay minimum-wage pay increases for health care workers he signed into law last year.

READ MORE: Why the Race To Replace Gov. Gavin Newsom Is Already So Crowded

Half of the voters surveyed described the budget deficit as “extremely serious,” while 37% called it “somewhat serious.”

When asked how the state should deal with forecasts of a shortfall in the upcoming state budget, voters chose from among four options: spending cuts to government services, tapping into the state’s “rainy day” reserve fund, borrowing from special funds or raising taxes.

Of those four, two were most popular: spending cuts to government services, at 51%, and tapping into the rainy-day fund, at 35%. Only around 17% backed borrowing from special funds, while 13% preferred raising taxes. (Voters who mentioned several choices led to totals adding up to more than 100%.)

The survey revealed that three-fourths of Republicans and conservative voters supported spending cuts, as did majorities of men, older voters, whites, Asian Americans and no-party-preference voters. By contrast, only about a third of the state’s Democrats, liberals and African American voters in the poll said they supported such cuts, while more backed dipping into rainy-day funds as a way to deal with the deficit.

The Berkeley IGS poll was conducted online Jan. 4-8 among a random sample of 8,199 registered California voters, including a weighted sub-sample of 4,470 voters likely to take part in the March 5 primary.

Eric Schickler, co-director of the institute, said in the statement that the survey “suggests little appetite for tax increases to address the deficit, but a challenge for Governor Newsom and the legislature is that while spending cuts, in principle, are relatively popular, that support would likely dissipate when it comes time to making cuts to specific programs and services.”

George Kelly can be reached at