California Governor Schwarzenegger approval ratings rise significantly

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California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
Photo by John Han

By Mark DiCamillo and Mervin Field

There has been a significant increase in both Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s job performance and image ratings among registered voters over the past six months.

By a two to one majority (60% to 28%) state voters also view favorably the actions taken by the governor and the state legislature to move up the 2008 presidential primary from June to February. And, for the first time in six years, more voters now rate the job the state legislature is doing in a positive than negative light.

Voters also take a more optimistic view of the direction of the state, compared to what it was last year. Now, 52% say California is headed in the right direction and 38% think it is on the wrong track, a reversal from a 57% to 32% negative appraisal last May.

While two-thirds of state voters continue to believe there should be laws limiting the terms of California elected officials, by a 53% to 39% margin, likely voters in the February primary are disposed to approve an initiative to modify the state’s term limits law.

These are the highlights from the latest statewide Field Poll about matters relating to the governor, state legislature, the February primary and the proposed term limits initiative.

Trend of voter assessments of Schwarzenegger
During Schwarzenegger’s first year in office, large majorities approved of the job that he was doing. However, beginning in the spring and summer of his second year, voter assessments of the governor turned completely around, with more disapproving than approving of his performance.

Starting last July, the governor’s job performance ratings returned to positive territory. The current poll shows continuing improvement in his ratings since his re-election last November, as 60% currently approve and 29% disapprove.

There has been a similar turn-around in the governor’s favorability ratings, with 63% of voters now saying they have a generally favorable opinion of Schwarzenegger, while just 29% hold an unfavorable view.

Underlying Schwarzenegger’s improved standing is the fact that majorities of Democrats, Republicans and non-partisans all rate the governor’s job performance positively and have a favorable impression of him.

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Job appraisal of the state legislature
The highly negative view that California voters have displayed toward the state legislature during recent years now appears to be lessening. In Field Poll measures conducted between 2003 and the spring of last year, about twice as many voters disapproved as approved of the legislature’s performance overall. Last September that dim view started to ease somewhat. Now, a slightly larger proportion of voters (42%) approves of the job the legislature is doing as disapproves (40%).

Slim pluralities of Democrats and non-partisans approve of the state legislature’s performance, while a plurality of Republicans disapproves.

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Support for moving up the state’s presidential primary
By a greater than two to one margin (60% to 27%), voters have a favorable view of the recent action by the legislature and the Governor to move up next year’s presidential primary from June to February. Democrats and Republicans each approve by similar margins.

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Trend of voter opinion of term limits
As they have for the past ten years, about two-thirds of the state’s voters (66%) believe that the terms of elected officials in California should be limited. Majorities of Democrats, Republicans and non-partisans all feel this way.

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Early support for term limits modification
While voters continue to support the idea of limiting the terms of elected officials, these same voters indicate initial support for the proposed initiative to modify the present term limits law. An initiative proposed for the February 2008 ballot will ask voters to reduce the total years a legislator can serve in both legislative houses from 14 to 12 years, but allow legislators to serve their entire 12 years in either the Assembly or the Senate. By a 53% to 39% margin likely voters indicate their initial approval of this idea.

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Impact that the initiative’s provision allowing legislative leaders to avoid being termed out has on voter support
One consequence of the new term limits initiative is that many current legislators, including the present leaders in the Senate and Assembly, would avoid being termed out of office next year because of a provision in the new law allowing legislators to serve up to 12 years in the legislative body in which they are currently serving. After voters were informed of this, they were asked what effect this would have on their support or opposition to the initiative.

More than one half of all voters (55%) say this information has no effect on how they would vote on the term limits initiative. This compares to about one in five (22%) who say this makes them less inclined to support the initiative, while almost as many (19%) say it makes them more inclined to support it.

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Trend of attitudes toward the direction of the state

Up until the spring of last year, more California voters felt that the state was seriously off on the wrong track rather than heading in the right direction. That view began to change last summer. Now, 52% of voters believe that California is headed in the right direction, while 38% feel it is on the wrong track.

Pluralities of voters across all parties now feel the state is heading in the right direction.

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See Related: FIELD REPORT

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