Poll: Uphill battle for rail, Republicans, and more

8:00 PM, Mar 20, 2013   |    comments
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Graphic: PPIC

Be they skeptical or conflicted, a new statewide poll suggests Californians aren't so sure about jumping on the bandwagon when it comes to some of the biggest issues of 2013.

The survey from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California finds virtually no change from last year in the public's wariness of high speed rail and an $11.1 billion bond for water reliability projects.

(The full poll is here.)

In the case of high speed rail, that's especially noteworthy given the long-term cost of the project, now pegged at some $68 billion, was cut by almost a third last year.

The new PPIC poll finds 54 percent of likely voters now oppose the bullet train project that's being championed by Gov. Jerry Brown.  Last March, when the estimated cost was closer to $98 billion, 53 percent of likely voters were opposed.

"Right now, from policy makers, whether it's the governor or the Legislature, they're not hearing enough to make them feel excited or enthusiastic about this project," says Mark Baldassare, PPIC's president and pollster.

Even so, PPIC's survey finds a number of Californians who think the project has real value... apparently just not in the size or scope as now envisioned.

When asked to weigh in on the importance of high speed rail to the state's future, 67 percent of those surveyed agreed that it's important (36 percent very important, 31 percent somewhat important).  And that was a widespread sentiment; strong majorities in every region of the state agreed with its importance, even in some of California's most conservative (and generally anti-bullet train) communities.

The poll found that when voters were asked about a downsized train project, support jumps from 48 percent to 62 percent.

So what's the magic price tag? PPIC didn't ask, and in truth no one may know.  Regardless, the larger political question may be whether the governor -- even after his crusade to trim costs -- can sell the reality of high speed rail to the public.

Meantime, opposition has intensified to an $11.1 billion water bond slated for the November 2014 ballot. The proposal was supported by a bare majority in a PPIC poll last spring, and is now favored by just 42 percent of likely voters.  51 percent are opposed.

Here, too, support rises when voters are asked about a smaller version.  A downsized bond (of unspecified size) would be supported by 55 percent of those polled.  And also like the high speed rail dilemma, 68 percent agree the proposal is important for the state's future.

PPIC's Baldassare believes that Californians just aren't confident enough in an economic recovery to open up the state's checkbook.

And the sense of conflicted feelings -- battles between the pros and cons of things -- is sprinkled throughout this new poll:

Gun Control: Likely voters are evenly divided in the PPIC survey about whether it's more important to protect the rights of gun owners or to control gun ownership.  (The larger sample of all adults shows a much larger margin of support on the side of gun control.)  Democrats and independents both favor gun controls, as do a surprising 53 percent of voters in the generally conservative Inland Empire.

Environment law and Business Impact: More Golden State angst can be found in PPIC's questions regarding changes to the landmark California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a key goal of both the governor and many in the business community. 49 percent of likely voters say strict laws and regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy; 46 percent say stricter laws and regulations are worth the cost.

Tradtional (and predictable) urban-rural splits appear on this issue, though PPIC found 50 percent support for "worth the cost" in the historic GOP bastions of Orange and San Diego County. 

Interesting splits, too, by ethnicity on the 'business vs. the environment' choice: Asians (62 percent) and Latinos (55 percent) lean towards the environmental side of the debate, while African Americans (68 percent) and whites (52 percent) tilt towards the 'regulations-hurt-job growth' side.

Republicans Don't Understand?: The most politically interesting part of the new poll may be its validation of the idea that the California Republican Party has a long road back before finding itself in any position of power.  Only 34 percent of likely voters in the PPIC poll say they have a favorable view of the GOP, compared to 55 percent who think favorably of Democrats.

The poll's ethnic subgroups don't offer much Republican solace. An unfavorable view of Republicans is held by 66 percent of Asians, 51 percent of Latinos, and 79 percent of African Americans.  That Latino number, by the way, may actually be a small silver lining for Republicans... as it suggests they've got a fighting chance.


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