The second of six public opinion polls conducted by the USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences and the Los Angeles Times found large shifts in attitudes among California voters regarding immigration policy and the economy, according to results released Monday.
According to Ann Crigler, chair and professor of political science, a number of students were involved in formulating questions and doing research for the poll. She said getting students involved with the project was crucial for them to understand how to do research.
“It gives them a much better understanding of how to analyze the polls they read in their daily lives, and they also think about politics in general and how to get people interested in it,” she said.
Still, the project would like to have more students involved in formulating questions and analyzing results, according to Dan Schnur, director of USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, who said there will be a series of upcoming events for students interested in getting involved in the project.
“Our goal is to gradually get students more involved,” he said. “We think this will be a very unique learning experience for students interested in learning about politics and public opinion.”
The newly released poll, which surveyed 1,515 registered California voters on public policy issues such as health care and immigration reform and the 2010 gubernatorial and senate races, found that 47 percent of voters said they opposed denying illegal immigrants social services funded by taxpayer money, while 45 percent supported it.
Schnur said these results show a significant shift in voter opinion.
“Historically, California voters have opposed services to illegal immigrants and their families,” Schnur said. “We’ve seen a much higher level of support in this poll.”
Though only 10 percent of voters surveyed said the nation is headed in the right direction, many are pleased with the health care reform bill, with 52 percent saying the country will be better off now that President Barack Obama has signed the bill.
In the race for governor, one of the key points stressed was Republican candidate Meg Whitman’s business background and her fundraising ability, which representatives from USC and the Los Angeles Times agreed have led to her three-point lead over democratic candidate Jerry Brown. Whitman currently has the support of 44 percent of voters, while Brown has 41 percent.
“The biggest weakness of a female candidate running for president or governor is being perceived as not being able to take on CEO positions and her advertising has tackled this head on,” said Linda DiVall, a republican pollster from the Los Angeles Times.
Lauren Korbatov, public relations director of the USC College Republicans, said she feels that Meg Whitman’s business background, in particular, makers her a better candidate for governor.
“I think she has a very strong chance of winning the election,” Korbatov said. “Her business experience is a huge asset because California is facing a lot of economic problems right now.”
The poll also found that voters are more confident in the nation’s economy than in California’s.
Bobby Almeida, president of the USC College Democrats, said that the pessimism in California about the economy stems from the lack of confidence in the current Republican leadership.
“That’s why we need to elect Jerry Brown,” he said. “When he was governor, California created 1.9 million new jobs, and that’s what we need in this economy.”
One of the unique features of this poll, according to Jane Junn, research director and professor of political science, is its emphasis on understanding the dynamics of swing voters — those voters registered as ‘declined to state.’
“We know that elections are won or lost based on swing voters, and to understand their dynamics we designed this poll to understand the preferences of candidates among swing voters,” Junn said.
Schnur echoed the importance of swing voters, saying that future polls will likely continue to place emphasis on them.
“We hope to continue this in other polls,” he said. “‘Declined to state’ voters are one of the fastest growing groups in California. By looking in greater detail at [these] voters, you not only get a better sense for the electorate in this year’s elections, but you get a sense of what the electorate of the future will look like.”
The College and Los Angeles Times plan to release another poll in June and three more polls before the 2010 elections for governor and Senate in November.