The Field Poll is out with a new look at Californians’ attitudes on the state budget crisis. The results are being reported as “Californians prefer spending cuts, not taxes” as a way to solve the budget deficit. And even though that headline misstates what is in the poll, the bigger issue is the general and vague nature of the poll itself.
Here’s what Field asked:
California lawmakers face a deep budget deficit again next year, with a gap that may reach $20 billion between projected revenues and current spending levels. How would you prefer to have this deficit closed – only through tax increases, mostly through tax increases but with some spending cuts, through an equal mix of tax increases and spending cuts, mostly through spending cuts but with some tax increases, or only through spending cuts?
The responses, of statewide registered voters:
Cuts only: 31%
Mostly cuts: 19%
Equal mix of cuts and taxes: 29%
Mostly taxes: 9%
Taxes only: 4%
No opinion: 8%
So the way this is being reported in the media strikes me as being pretty flawed. The way I read this says 61% of voters want taxes to be some element of the solution to the budget mess, and only 31% want cuts-only.
Sure, those numbers could and should be better. But even in spite of progressives’ inability to deliver those messages to Californians, 61% don’t want an all-cuts budget. It should be noted that such a budget is exactly what Arnold Schwarzenegger and Meg Whitman propose for California.
What the poll didn’t ask is about specific programs. In January PPIC found that 2/3rds of Californians would pay higher taxes if it went to education. That suggests that the rather vague and unspecific nature of this Field Poll means its utility for driving policy is very, very limited.
Field Poll also examined attitudes on the upcoming initiative to change the 2/3rds rule to a simple majority on budget (but not on taxes) that may make the November ballot. They found it was close: 43% support, 47% oppose. The initiative likely to go forward would include financial penalties to legislators if a budget isn’t passed on time, which as I understand it boosts the poll numbers for this proposal significantly.
But what we also see is that just as Democrats in Washington, DC have failed to drive home the message that Republican obstruction is responsible for a large part of the political problems the country faces, Democrats in Sacramento have had similar problems. When Field asked about whether we could solve California’s problems “if lawmakers are willing to compromise and work together” or if we needed constitutional changes, they found 20% said “constitutional change” and 75% said “politicians should work together.”
While the construction of that question is iffy (of course voters will say they want their politicians to work together), it does indicate that Sacramento Democrats have not done an effective job of explaining that Republican obstruction is the reason why nothing gets done.
Ultimately this poll gives a roadmap to Speaker Pérez: insist that taxes be part of the budget solution, link them to specific programs that people want (particularly education), and make sure Californians know that it is Republicans who are standing in the way of that happening.