Last week, the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California released their latest survey of Californians stand on a host of issues.
Writing about the poll results, veteran Los Angeles Times political columnist George Skelton summed up the survey’s shock findings with a banner headline – “California’s Legislature is less popular than Trump with the state’s voters poll finds.”
Among likely voters, 34 percent said they approved of the way the California Legislature is handling its job compared to 38 percent of likely voters who approve of Trump’s job performance.
On Thursday, I attended a presentation with one of PPIC’s pollsters explaining the survey results. While waiting in line to go in, I ran into a Democrat friend of mine who couldn’t believe the survey’s results.
Voters just gave us an unprecedented supermajority in both houses of the Legislature, and we’ve passed historic legislation this year, my friend lamented. How could we have a lower approval rating than a President who is so deeply unpopular in California?
I think there are two potential explanations.
First, I think there’s a bit of a “pox on your house” when people think about legislative bodies. People hate Congress and the California Legislature, associating each with partisanship and infighting – the things we don’t like about politics.
You can also make a historical case that executives are more popular than legislators. Gov. Newsom today has a 41 percent approval rating among likely voters compared to 34 percent for the Legislature. Congress just a 22 percent approval rating in California, compared to Trump’s 38 percent.
Gallup’s polling on Congressional approval nationally has been consistently below 30 percent – and much of the time below 20 percent – for more than a decade. In comparison, President Trump’s job approval rating has been in the low-to-mid 40 percent range through most of presidency, while President Obama averaged 47.9 percent approval and President Bush 49.4 percent.
The other explanation is that for all the legislation that the liberal supermajority has passed, they really haven’t done much to address California’s two biggest problems – housing and homelessness.
Voters see more homeless than ever before, trash piling high, and a growing public health crisis. Meanwhile, housing prices continue to rise as state policies make it very difficult and expensive to build much-needed new housing. They see a lot of talk from Sacramento on these issues, but not much action.
In some cases, lawmakers stopped popular reforms. 62 percent of Californians in the PPIC survey favored requiring local governments to change zoning requirements for new development from single to multi-family housing near transit and job centers. Yet, lawmakers blocked legislation (SB 50, by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco) to do just that.
Meanwhile, 61 percent favored requiring local governments to approve new housing before they receive transportation funding, something that Gov. Newsom has talked about. Yet, this proposal was met with howls of protest by the Legislature and local governments alike.
The same voters who gave Democrats a large supermajority are sending them a message with low approval ratings – we’re not happy that you’ve done virtually nothing on housing and homelessness. It remains to be seen whether the supermajority will listen to what voters are telling them and change course before the end of this year’s legislative session.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s communications director.