The results of a poll released, appropriately, on Tax Day, indicate that Californians, no matter their partisan alignment, have grown weary of having to hand over so much of their money to the state and local governments. A separate poll arriving four days later shows that an increasing portion of Californians support building more nuclear plants rather than phasing them out, as the state is doing.
It would be foolish to take these numbers as a sign that California is turning red. It’s still a long way from purple. But it’s reasonable to think that the political ground is shifting.
The first hint of blue fatigue emerges from a reading of a Public Policy Institute of California poll. Respondents across the state say their taxes are – if we might borrow from a fringe political party to describe their responses – “too damn high.” Nearly three-fourths (72%) of all adults believe they are paying much more (35%) or somewhat more (37%) than they should. Only one in six (16%) thinks their tax bills are what they should be.
What comes next, though, is almost astonishing.
More than half (52%) of the Democrats surveyed said they felt their taxes are too high. Forty-two percent said they believed they’re paying “about the right amount.” Two-thirds of independents say their taxes are “too high.”
The discontent has grown sharply over the last year. Both Democrats (52%) and independents (63%) who say state and local taxes are “unfair” reached all-time highs in the PPIC poll. In contrast, just 36% of Democrats and half of independents viewed the tax system as unfair in the 2021 survey.
The negative view of state and local taxes is the highest in the Central Valley (67%), which is a key battleground for 2022 congressional and state legislative campaigns. The race for the middle-of-the-Valley 13th Congressional District, for instance, is “eminently flippable” from Democrat to Republican, even though party registration favors Democrats by a 43-29 margin. The votes of the more than one-fifth who have no party preference will play a large role in the results. In the recent special primary election to replace Devin Nunes in Congress, Republicans led by former Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway garnered 66.2% of the vote in a seat where Nunes won by just nine points in 2020.
At the state level, the races in Assembly District 22, which includes Modesto and Turlock, and 27, part of the 13th Congressional District, are considered “hot” by CalMatters. Based on voter registrations, they are hard leans toward Democrats, yet the races are considered wide open.
Steep taxes aren’t the only matter troubling Californians. They’re justifiably worried about a future of increasing energy costs and declining reliability as the state stubbornly transitions to an all-renewables power grid. The frustration is evident in a recent Berkeley IGS Poll in which more registered voters said they support (44%) rather than oppose (37%) building additional nuclear plants (19% aren’t sure).
Poll director Mark DiCamillo said the online survey’s findings “contrast with consistently strong opposition to the building of more nuclear plants in statewide polls in the years following the nuclear power plant accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979.”
Californians also are against the scheduled 2025 closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in San Luis Obispo County, with 39% opposing the closure, 33% favoring it, and 28% undecided.
The responses to the nuclear power questions broke down by party lines. A large majority of Democrats oppose nuclear, while Republicans support it. Of note, however, are the answers from no-party-preference voters – 46% want more nuclear power, 34% don’t; 42% oppose the closure of Diablo Canyon, 29% favor it.
Don’t mistake these trends as a turning point leading to a reversal in the partisan makeup of California, even as Republicans are expected to pick up seats across the country in the midterm elections. But they do suggest the plausibility of a near future where public policy is more moderate than we’ve seen in the last two decades. It seems there’s a shade of blue that’s too dark even for the Golden State.