Gray Davis begins his second term as governor with Californians believing that the state is seriously off on the wrong track, the economy is rocky and the state is in a budget shortfall that the governor says might well run over $30 billion. Although respondents believe it is unrealistic to think that the budget can be balanced without taxes being increased, they are not inclined to endorse increases in most taxes or fees (i.e., vehicle license fees, increase in sales tax) or to reduce spending on many social programs. Respondents mentioned education, budget shortfall and the economy, in that order, as the most important problems facing California today. And they believe that the governor falls short in addressing those issues.

Governor Davis’ overall job rating by most Californians is remarkably poor, as well as his ratings on the economy, education, energy and the state budget. And most don’t think he is a decisive leader as they thought before the gubernatorial election. But even with such a poor opinion, Californians do not want him recalled. And when respondents were told the cost of a special election, the share of those supporting a recall drops substantially.

Governor Davis’ Ratings

Overall Rating: The governor’s job rating is one of the lowest ratings a governor in California has ever received. Nearly two-thirds of Californians disapprove of the way Mr. Davis is handling his job as governor, while just 27% approve. Nine percent are undecided. During the latter part of the governor’s first term in office (during and after the energy crisis), Mr. Davis’ ratings began to tumble but not to this degree. In late October of last year, 46% approved of his job performance while 42% disapproved. To give some perspective, former Governor Pete Wilson received about as bad a rating as the current governor after several crises disrupted his administration. A Times poll taken during the recession in late 1992 when the former governor increased taxes, showed that 28% of Californians approved of the way he handled his job, while 61% disapproved; and a Times poll in late 1994 after the former governor supported Proposition 187 (anti-immigration initiative) and the initiative won, his job rating also sank — 33% approved, while 60% disapproved. (When Mr. Wilson left office, his job rating improved to 53% vs. 37%.)

The governor’s core constituency — Democrats, liberals, women, blacks and Latinos — have turned their opinions around from approving of Mr. Davis’ handling his job from just before the November election to now disapproving of his job performance.

–––– Now –––– ––– Oct. ’02 ––– Job Rating: Approve Disapprove Approve Disapprove Democrats 39% 54% 66% 30% Liberals 33% 59% 65% 23% Blacks 40% 57% 73% 18% Latinos 36% 51% 51% 34% Women 24% 64% 50% 36%

Independents or declined-to-state respondents also changed their view about the governor. In October, 57% approved of his job performance, while 36% disapproved. In the current poll, it was the opposite: 31%–57%. Both self-described liberal and moderate to conservative Democrats also shared the same opinion of the governor—disapproving (59% and 50% respectively). More than half of respondents living in Los Angeles County and three out of five living in the Bay Area also give the governor negative ratings.

When respondents were asked why they approved of the way Governor Davis has handled his job, nothing was specifically cited. About a fifth each said they just liked him and his performance as governor. However, among those who disapproved of his job performance, there was more consensus on many substantive issues: 29% cited the budget shortfall, 27% mentioned the way the governor handled the energy crisis, followed by 24% who said education and 11% who cited that he had no integrity. Even 35% of Democrats cited the budget shortfall and 32% mentioned education as reasons why they disapproved.

State’s economy: More than three out of five Californians disapprove of the way the governor is handling the state’s economy, 22% approve. This is a dramatic downward shift since the question was asked last year in a January Times poll. Mr. Davis’ ratings were not stellar then, but at least the state was divided over his handling of this issue — 41% approve, 42% disapprove.

Education: This issue was the keystone of Governor Davis’ first campaign and he made it his first “top three priorities”. The state has made some progress with higher test scores for public school children, but Californians believe a lot more can be done. However, with the budget shortfall, there is talk of reducing spending for kindergarten through 12th grade and fee hikes for community colleges and the UC/Cal State systems. In an October 2002 Times poll, the governor received a 49% approval rating to a 33% disapproval rating. In the current survey, a fifth of respondents approve, while two-thirds disapprove. A fifth of parents with children in public school approve of his handling education, while 74% disapprove of handling this issue. Blacks and Latinos also overwhelmingly disapprove of the governor on this issue. Minorities make up more than three fifths of the state’s 6.1 million public school students.

Energy: During the energy crisis in California, Gov. Davis blamed the energy industry for manipulating prices and causing the rates to soar. He was vindicated when Enron was found guilty of this practice along with other energy companies. However, Californians did not believe he acted quickly enough. His “dragging his feet” on this issue cost the respect of the state’s residents. Almost three out of five Californians disapprove of the way he handled the energy situation, while almost three in 10 approved. This has not changed much since the Times’ poll asked the question starting back in late January 2002.

State’s budget: With so much talk about the budget shortfall, Governor Davis’ handling of this issue is not seen with an approving eye. Almost seven in 10 of those surveyed said they disapproved of the way the governor is handling this issue, while 17% approve. No demographic group approved of his handling of the state’s budget.

Leadership traits: Along with the governor’s poor performance ratings, most poll respondents also said that he has not shown decisive leadership qualities. More than three fifths said he is not a decisive leader, while 29% think he is. Californians’ perceptions about the governor’s leadership have changed dramatically for the worse. These opinions about the governor cross party lines. In a Times poll conducted last October, nearly half thought the governor had shown leadership traits, while another 39% didn’t think so.

Decisive Leadership

Now Oct. ’02

Dems Inds Reps Dems Inds Reps Yes 42% 35% 10% 62% 51% 31% No 52% 54% 86% 31% 33% 66%

Like Davis, Like Policies: Respondents were asked a question about Governor Davis and whether they like him as a person and like his policies or do not like the governor and do not like his policies. Although most Californians disapprove of Mr. Davis’ job performance, half said they like him as a person, while 41% dislike him. Not surprising, given his ratings on issues affecting the state, two thirds of those interviewed disliked most of the governor’s policies, while a quarter liked his policies. Nearly three out of five Democrats said they like him as a person, but 56% also said they dislike his policies.

State Legislature handling job and state budget: The state Legislature’s performance has fallen from being somewhat positive in a Times poll taken in January 2002 (43% to 29%) to being more negative — 32% approve, while 37% disapprove. Three in 10 are undecided. They also are not giving stellar marks to the way the Legislature is handling the state budget. Almost three out of five respondents disapprove of the state Legislature’s performance on the state budget, (residents of the Golden State give lower marks to the governor on this issue) while about as many approve of its handling of the budget, 17%, as the governor.