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The voters are furious -- but are they madder at government or big business? That question could define the next political era
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ILLUSTRATION BY DANNY HELLMAN

But the anti-incumbent message isn't necessarily an anti-government message. Most Californians are willing to put more of their cash into public-sector programs, even during this deep recession. When asked to name the most important issues facing the state, 53 percent mentioned jobs and the economy . The state budget, deficit, and taxes only got the top billing of 15 percent.

And contrary to the conventional wisdom espoused by moderate politicians and political consultants, most voters say they are willing to pay higher taxes to save vital services. "Californians tell us they continue to place a high value on education and want education to be protected from cuts. And they're willing to commit their money to help fund that," PPIC director Mark Baldassare told the Guardian.

The survey found that 69 percent of respondents say they would pay higher taxes to protect K-12 education from future cuts, while 54 percent each say they would pay higher taxes to prevent cuts to higher education and to health and human services programs. In other words, voters seem to recognize where we've cut too deeply — and where we haven't cut enough: only 18 percent of respondents would be willing to pay higher taxes to prevent cuts to prisons and corrections.

Baldassare said the June primary results also showed that people are willing to pay more in taxes for the services they value. "Around the state, there was a lot of evidence that people responded favorably to requests by their local governments for money, particularly for schools," he said.

Both the California Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are held in very low esteem with voters, according to the PPIC study, and Schwarzenegger's 23 percent rating is the lowest in the poll's history.

Barbara O'Connor, political communications professor who heads the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at Sacramento State University, told us that voter unhappiness with elected leaders is no surprise. Right now, most people are afraid that their basic needs won't be met over the long run.

"The common narrative is fear, and fear channels into anger," O'Conner said.

And that fear is being tapped into strongly this year by the Republican candidates, who are trying to scare voters into embracing their promises to gut government and keep taxes as low as possible.

"If there's any lesson to be learned from Meg and Carly's early ads, it's fear-mongering, fear-mongering all the time — and that doesn't create a very positive narrative," O'Connor said of gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina.

O'Connor noted that Barack Obama's campaign had great success in using a positive, hopeful message and said she believes the right leader can also do so in California. "I talked to Jerry [Brown]'s people about it and said you can't just run a negative campaign because that's what Meg is doing."

Despite the tenor of the times, O'Connor said she's feeling hopeful about hope. She also believes Californians would respond well to a leader like Obama who tried to give them that hope — if only someone like Brown can pick up that mantle. "I think the environment is right for a positive message. But the question is: do we have people capable of delivering it?"

She said the no-new-taxes, dismantle-government rhetoric has started to wear thin with voters. "The real fiscal conservatives are badly outnumbered in Californian," O'Connor said. As for the corporate sales jobs, O'Connor said voters have really started to wise up. "They aren't going to be scammed."

The results of the June primary election showed that voters across the spectrum were also disturbed by big special-interest money. Proposition 16, backed by $46 million from Pacific Gas and Electric Co., went down to defeat — even in counties that tend to vote Republican.

Comments

There is some good analysis in this cover story, but Redmond/Jones seem to be saying that the solution is to elect Jerry Brown and more Democrats. Yet, here we are under Obama/Pelosi/Reid and the federal government is still driving this country off of a cliff.

If I would have told you guys in 2008 that a President Obama would be barring the media from covering a major oil spill in the Gulf, you would have sent me to crazy-town. Yet, the US Coast Guard (which reports directly to Obama) is blocking, harassing and intimidating journalists who attempt to document this catastrophe.

Pelosi? She can't even show up for the annual Pride Parade! Not like she has a taxpayer-funded private jet to shuttle her back to Washington DC or anything, right?

And what about SF? Democrats have controlled this town completely for decades, yet here we are with crime-ridden streets, a broken down transit system, sky-high housing costs, gentrification, crumbling schools, filthy sidewalks...

I've seen this movie before. I know how it ends, and it is not pretty.

We need real electoral reform and a multi-party system to make our government accountable to the people.Only then will we be able to stop fighting over scraps. Only then will our voices be heard.

Posted by Erika McDonald on Jul. 02, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

The People Want Taxes? I don't care what think tank you are quoting. I don't think you are right. Those who want those taxes won't send extra when they file unless coerced.

Posted by hudson on Jul. 02, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

If you want to really know why California has fallen to such low levels is simply because it has stopped being a state that offers any real opportunities- that is unless you're rich. The cost of housing is the single biggest issue in this state and somehow people in the media just don't seem to get it. People ( at least in California) are pissed off most about this issue. Frankly I don't really cars anymore because since I don't really feel like shelling out $500k for a small house, we're moving to Austin next year.

The article mentions that people want more taxes. Yes- I've seen quite a bit of this already. Hand-wringing parents who paid a pretty penny to live in an area of the Bay Area that has ( gasp) real, functioning public schools- something that about 95% of the country enjoys by default but yet here in super-gentrified yuppieville schools are in the toilet. Thus I've seen all sorts of crazy half-cooked ideas to "save the children!" with more parcel taxes, bake sales, and whatnot.

Guess what? NONE of the problems in this state are going to get fixed until the real problems are fixed first. The single biggest is Proposition 13. Ever since this law was passed the state has been on a one-way path towards fiscal destruction. What it all boils down to is that the cost of running a state as with everything else goes up over time. This is simple economics 101. Yet with Prop 13 you have this ridiculous tax structure where businesses and individual property owners get to pay 1975 era taxes on houses and businesses worth 10 times more than what they paid. In my East Bay neighborhood the average age is pushing 60. Most Bay Area towns are probably about the same. So thus therein lies the problem- inadequate funds due to a dwindling tax base.

The bottom line is this: Pass all the taxes you want. None of these will do any good because the foundation is rotten to start with. As long as prop 13 is active, the state's financial situation will only grow worse.

Again I don't really care because I am outta' here.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 03, 2010 @ 8:43 pm

Guest, I think you're right that Prop. 13 is at the core of the problems that we discussed in this article. And Hudson, you may be right that nobody likes paying taxes, but the polling we cited in the article indicates that people are more concerned now with essential services being slashed so deeply than they are with paying a big more in taxes.
Steven T. Jones

Posted by steven on Jul. 06, 2010 @ 3:51 pm

Which is worse big business or big government? They are one and the same. Republican, Democrat it really does not matter they are both reaching into the pocket of common everyday America to make themselves wealthier. I am not sure enough people are ready to look past the diatribe and dogma they have been taught to see beyond the curtain. This country has lost millions of jobs. We have allowed unbridled greed and demand for immediate profit to jeopardize stable corporations. Long term investments and growth plans have been replaced by immediate profit. What was called corporate raiding and destruction became a way of business in the 1990s and early 2000s. Wall street is no longer investing in the future but rather solely interested in making profits today.

We were sold the lie of "get a good education, find a good career, work hard, and you will be wealthy." The truth is go into debt for an education, become a wage slave or modern day indentured servant, and all of our innovation and ability will be used to make someone else rich. We have been convinced as workers that our contribution means little and we should accept the tokens traded to us for the hours of our lives. All this so we can buy and have stuff we do not really ever own. The truth is the ONLY thing we ever really own is the skill of our hands, the ideas in our minds, and the artistry of our abilities. Yet we allow that to be taken under the bondage of debt to provide wealth to our Masters and overlords.

I do not believe people are really ready to examine how deeply they have been duped. When they are willing to see the lies then maybe you can get them to understand. Until then the corporations, the haves, will continue to take from everyone else, the soon to be halve nots, through the manipulation of our government. SInce 1974 the productivity of the average American worker has doubled. The average income has stayed pretty close to the same. The disparity between what top 10% earn and the rest of us make has grown exponentially wider. The rich get richer. The rest of us are slowly losing ground.

That will be a hard pill for anyone to swallow. Fixing it will be a hard sale.

Posted by Dani Cailin on Jul. 29, 2010 @ 1:36 am

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