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Dan Walters

Outsiders Love Bashing California but Residents Are Souring on the State, Too

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Dan Walters delves into Californian discontent and Gov. Gavin Newsom's fiscal challenges in a politically charged climate. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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In Summary
California is the state that the rest of the nation loves to hate, but a new poll finds that Californians, by a wide margin, are also sour on the state’s direction.

As Republican presidential candidates were slogging through Iowa and talking to voters prior to this week’s caucuses, California-bashing was common.

Dan Walters with a serious expression

Dan Walters

CalMatters

Opinion

Los Angeles Times reporter Seema Mehta picked up on the phenomenon, writing that “the Golden State, its elected leaders and its policies were a constant target.”

“Bashing California, one of the most liberal states in the nation, is a grand tradition in the GOP,” Mehta observed.

“But Republican presidential candidates may be targeting the state and its politicians more this cycle because they are a better target than President Biden.”

“Biden isn’t as motivating a villain as other Democrats might be. So the Republican candidates are essentially running a negative campaign against California,” California politics scholar Dan Schnur told Mehta. “The very worst thing Ron DeSantis could think of to say about Nikki Haley during the debate was that she might be more liberal than (Gov.) Gavin Newsom. For an Iowa Republican — or any Republican for that matter — that’s an absolutely terrifying concept.”

California may be the state that many in the rest of the nation love to hate, but a new poll of Californians indicates that they aren’t very sanguine about the state, either.

The UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found that just 33% of California voters believe the state is headed in the right direction while 57% say it’s on a negative track.

“This is a somewhat more negative assessment than voters have given in similar measures conducted over the past 11 years,” poll director Mark DiCamillo said.

The sour attitudes extend to Newsom, the poll found. Asked about his job performance, 47% of voters surveyed disapprove and 46% approve. That’s a very slight improvement from the 49% to 46% ratio that pollsters found in October.

“However, similar to the October survey, twice as many voters say they strongly disapprove of the governor’s performance (33%) as strongly approve (17%),” DiCamillo noted.

The poll introduced a new topic — the whopping budget deficit that Newsom and the Legislature must address this year — and discovered that nearly 90% of voters consider it a serious issue and there’s almost no support (13%) for raising taxes to deal with it. Instead, voters prefer that Newsom and legislators cut spending (51%) or tap into state reserves (35%) to cover the deficit, which Newsom pegs at $38 billion but the Legislature’s budget analyst estimates to be $68 billion.

Newsom also has shunned raising taxes, but progressive legislators, with support from groups dependent upon the state budget, such as public employee unions, have continued to press for higher personal and corporate income taxes and/or a new tax on wealth.

It appears that by cutting or postponing some spending, using reserves, borrowing from special funds and implementing some accounting gimmicks, the governor and the Legislature could fashion a 2024-25 budget without new taxes.

However, Newsom’s budget advisers and those of the Legislature also agree that California faces continued multibillion-dollar deficits for the next several years, at least, which means the debate over spending cuts and taxes will continue for the remainder of Newsom’s governorship.

“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,” the co-director of the poll, Eric Schickler said.

About the Author

Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times. CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more columns by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.

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