The Los Angeles Times and the USC Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics released the results of their first joint poll this weekend, finding that California voters are not pleased with the state of politics in California and believe the state is in a much worse place than the country as a whole.
The poll is the first of six to be conducted by the Times and the Unruh Institute. It also marks the first time USC has joined with a local newspaper in conducting political polls, according to Dan Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute.
“It’s a unique partnership with USC, but more broadly as well, we’re not aware of another partnership like this one between a major research university and a major metropolitan daily newspaper on a public research project anywhere else in the country,” Schnur said.
During a conference call Sunday, Schnur, along with others involved with the poll — including Jane Junn, USC professor of political science, Ann Crigler, USC professor of political science, and David Lauter, assistant managing editor of the Los Angeles Times — openly discussed the results of the poll, a cluster sample of 1,500 registered voters in California.
Republicans, Democrats, and Independents are among those who are wary of the 2010 gubernatorial elections because they believe the new governor will not be able to fix all of California’s problems; self-indentified Independents said they don’t think the next governor will be able to change much.
“Voters aren’t happy in California, but what we noticed is that the unhappiness that is overtly exhibited here is a different type of unhappiness that you see in other parts of the country,” Schnur said during the conference call. “In other parts of the country, voters seemed angry and here in California we see that they are not as much angry as they are disappointed.”
The poll found one exception to this trend of disappointment — President Barack Obama.
Forty percent of voters associated the words “hope” and “pride” with him, exhibiting a positive voter sentiment, and 59 percent of those polled said they would like to elect a senator who will mostly support Obama’s policies, whereas 35 percent hope for a senator who opposes his policies.
Obama’s popularity among these voters, said Schnur, provides a real boost to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) who is seeking re-election for the state Senate seat.
Many voters also indicated they want a senator who will be willing to take on special interests and reduce government spending.
As far as the gubernatorial race, the majority of Republicans — 32 percent — indicated they would support Ebay founder Meg Whitman in the primary, while the majority of Democrats — 65 percent — said they needed more choices now that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has dropped out of the race.
Schnur said he believes Whitman’s popularity has increased recently because of her radio advertising tactics, but he also said the primaries are still wide open — two-thirds of the Republican voters polled said they had not made a choice yet.
“The explanation, if one had to guess, is much more to do with the fact that [some of the candidates] are just largely unknown,” Schnur said on the conference call.
The poll also surveyed voters about the state budget deficit, asking whether the two-thirds majority vote in the state legislature needed to approve a new state budget should be reduced, if sales taxes should be expanded or if there should be a flatter income tax to make the budget. Opinion was split on these issues, though most voters agreed the deficit needed to be addressed.
“The taxes are normally one of the most divisive issues in any political campaign, but most Californians right now are blaming other things for the states problems,” Schnur said.
The Unruh Institute and the Los Angeles Times will come together Wednesday to discuss the results of this poll as part of the institute’s weekly Talk Back lunch series.
Los Angeles Times reporters and editors, as well as the two prominent public opinion research firms — Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic firm Greenbirg Quinlan Rosener — will join students and faculty on campus to discuss the polls’ findings.
The Unruh Institute, along with the USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences, intends to make polls like this a major part of the curriculum. Faculty members, according to Schnur, are revising their syllabi in order to discuss these polls in classes.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for USC students to learn more about how this part of the political process really works,” Schnur said.
The Times and the Unruh Institute will conduct five more polls during the course of the election season. The partnership, which developed when USC approached the Times, will help increase USC’s presence in the political realm, Schnur said.
“This is a survey that’s going to impact the way voters think about the candidates and the way the candidates think about the voters,” Schnur said. “Putting USC in the middle of that discussion has real benefits for the college and university.”
But Schnur said he was most excited about the potential the poll creates for student involvement in the election.
“This raises the ability of USC in the political world to a very significant degree,” Schnur said. “But much more importantly it provides opportunities for USC students that undergrads at most schools simply wont ever have.”