Poll: Californians Give Newsom Agenda Rave Reviews

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Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order at the state Capitol on March 13, 2019, halting executions in California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Californians are widely supportive of Gov. Gavin Newsom's policy agenda, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Majorities of likely voters voiced approval for the governor's proposed investments in housing subsidies, tax credits and wildfire prevention, all outlined in his January budget.

Perhaps most surprising, nearly 60 percent of likely voters supported life imprisonment over the death penalty, in a poll taken after Newsom declared a moratorium on executions in the state.

"Gov. Newsom's agenda is receiving very positive reviews from Californians at this point in time," said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. "We found very positive responses to his plans to spend funds for things that Californians view as significant problems."

PPIC surveyed 1,706 California residents from March 10-19. Chief among the problems identified by them is housing affordability: 93 percent rated the issue as a "big problem" or "somewhat of a problem."

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Newsom has set an ambitious goal of 3.5 million new units of housing by 2025, a target he aims to achieve with a mix of investments and (more controversial) changes to laws governing zoning and the state's oversight of local housing approvals.

The PPIC poll looked only at the governor's spending plan, and specifically at his idea to expand state tax credits to developers building low-income and moderate-income housing. That idea was favored by 65 percent of likely voters.

Poverty emerged as another top issue for California voters: 87 percent rated it as a "big problem" or "somewhat of a problem." The poll asked for reaction to Newsom's budget proposal to increase eligibility for the state's earned-income tax credit, which 65 percent of likely voters approved.

For the first time, the poll asked likely voters about the threat of wildfires, in the wake of the deadliest and most destructive year of fires in the state's history. Three-quarters of respondents said wildfires were at least "somewhat of a problem," and 81 percent support Newsom's plan to spend $415 million on preparing and responding to wildfires.

The money would go toward reducing fuel in California's forests through tree thinning, and pay for more Cal Fire aircrafts and fire engines.

"We were really struck with how many people in all the regions of the state view the potential threat of wildfires as a problem, something they're concerned about," Baldassare said. "Of all the budget proposals we have tested, the highest support that we've seen has been for Gov. Newsom's proposals to allocate money for wildfire preparedness, response and recovery."

Coverage of the Newsom administration

Earlier this month, Newsom announced a moratorium on executions in the state, taking on an issue that has long divided Californians.

The PPIC poll out Wednesday finds support for the death penalty at a historic low. Just 38 percent of likely voters favored execution over life imprisonment with no possibility of parole, as a penalty for first-degree murder.

"It's become a much more polarized issue over time. Independents, similar to Democrats, have become more opposed to the death penalty," Baldassare said. "This is the shifting policy landscape in which Gov. Newsom announces his intent around the death penalty issue."

It's important to note that the poll did not ask whether voters would support a repeal of the death penalty. In years past, even as polls showed likely voters preferring life in prison over execution, initiatives to repeal the death penalty lost on the ballot — most recently in 2016, when 53 percent of voters opposed Proposition 62.

The death penalty in California

Dozens of Democratic lawmakers have signed on to a proposal that would put the repeal of the death penalty back on the ballot in 2020.

"In previous elections, the opponents to repealing the death penalty have pointed out some terrible circumstances which gave voters pause for thought about whether or not to support a repeal, and this could happen again," Baldassare said. "But if there is a vote in 2020, I think it's important to put in context the fact that public opinion has shifted further away from the death penalty."

The poll also asked about Newsom's plans to curtail projects left over from the last governor, Jerry Brown.

Newsom has proposed scaling back the state's San Francisco to Los Angeles high-speed rail plan, calling instead for a focus on the development of segments in the Central Valley.

In December, 19 percent of likely voters said building a high-speed rail system should be a high or very high priority for the incoming governor. And in Wednesday's poll, 45 percent called Newsom's high-speed rail plan a good idea, versus 42 percent who said it was a bad idea.

Newsom's call for a single tunnel to pipe water under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to Southern California, as opposed to the two tunnels favored by Brown, is supported by 47 percent of likely voters, with 34 percent calling it a bad idea.