Monday, December 5, 2011

San Francisco Chronicle: Governor's rating in Field Poll maybe better than number

Jerry Brown's rating may be better than it looks

 
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A new survey shows that Gov. Jerry Brown has the second-lowest first-year approval rating of any California governor in a half-century, "but that's as good as he could possibly hope for in a bad situation," said Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo.

The poll of 1,000 registered voters being released today shows that 47 percent approve of Brown's performance, 36 percent disapprove and 17 percent had no opinion. Only former GOP Gov. Pete Wilson had a lower approval rating after his first year in office - 45 percent in a September 1991 Field Poll. The margin of error in today's poll is 4.5 percentage points.

Analysts say Brown inherited an intractable budget mess in Sacramento, a bleak economic climate and a Republican minority in the state Legislature that is steadfastly opposed to any tax increases.

The poll found that only 22 percent of the respondents approve of how members of the Legislature are doing their job - and that's more than twice as high as it was in September 2010.

At a time when the public has little love for politicians at any level, today's Field rating makes Brown "one of the most popular politicians in California," DiCamillo said.

"It's not so much that Jerry Brown has a lot in common politically with Pete Wilson," UC San Diego political science Professor Thad Kousser said Sunday. "But they both came in during hard economic times and had to make tough decisions."

Not getting easier

Brown's approval rating "doesn't say tremendously much about the job he's doing, but about the job he has to do," Kousser said. "In that light, he looks pretty good."

That job is not going to get easier.

Last month, the Legislative Analyst's Office reported that the state will probably be $3.7 billion short in revenue. That could trigger a provision that would require $2 billion in automatic budget cuts, much of them hitting public education. The director of the Department of Finance, Ana Matosantos, will make the final determination of triggered cuts by Dec. 15.

Today's poll found that 65 percent of the respondents thought the automatic spending cuts were a "bad idea."

"While he may look OK now, when people start feeling the effects of those cuts, his approval rating will likely take a big hit" next year, DiCamillo said. "There are storm clouds on the horizon."

"On the horizon? He's been riding storm clouds ever since he got into office," Brown spokesman Gil Duran said Sunday.

"We don't like the trigger cuts either, but it was the only way to balance the budget after Republicans blocked the people's right to vote," Duran said, referring to how GOP members of the Legislature would not agree to put a tax increase on the ballot before voters.

Split on party lines

Nearly two-thirds of Republicans disapproved of Brown's job performance, according to the poll, while a slightly higher number of Democrats gave their fellow Democrat a thumbs-up.

Forty-eight percent of non-partisan voters approved of Brown's job performance, 31 percent didn't, and 21 percent had no opinion.

And 68 percent of voters feel that the state is moving in the wrong direction, up from 64 percent in March.
California Republican Party chair Tom Del Beccaro said that is a reflection of how Brown has "failed to lead" during the current economic crisis.

"There are presidents like Reagan and Kennedy, and governors, who engage the public in their vision," Del Beccaro said. "But Jerry Brown doesn't have a plan to clean up Sacramento. All he's saying is give me more money (in taxes). So voters are not connecting with him."

Brown will need all the support he can muster in the next few months as he pushes a November 2012 ballot initiative to close the budget shortfall by raising taxes on the wealthiest Californians and increasing the state sales tax by one-half cent.

But next November is a lifetime away in political approval terms.

"Who knows where his approval ratings will be by next November, when voters will be asked to vote," DiCamillo said.

Historically, according to Field Poll ratings going back to 1959 when Jerry Brown's father, Pat Brown, took office, the governor with the highest rating after his first year in Sacramento was ... Jerry Brown. In November 1975, during the first year of his first tenure as governor, 67 percent of voters approved of his job performance.

"He was on the cover of national magazines then, he was dating Linda Ronstadt, he was a popular guy with a national profile," DiCamillo said.

But by August 1982, near the end of Brown's first tenure in office, Brown left Sacramento with an approval rating of 43 percent.

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