Amid broad economic uncertainty and a significant state budget shortfall, Governor Newsom has decided to go on the road and skip the traditional state of the state address to the legislature in Sacramento. The governor will be speaking directly to communities around the state at a time when most Californians hold positive views of his leadership—even as many express concerns about the future. Moreover, a widespread belief that the governor and legislature will work together and get things done this year is giving residents hope in turbulent times.
Majorities of California adults (58%) and likely voters (57%) approve of Governor Newsom’s handling of his job, according to the February PPIC Statewide Survey. Governor Newsom’s approval ratings among adults have not gone below 50% since his first year in office, when many were still on the fence about their new governor. Since then, majorities of adults have consistently said that they approve of the way that Gavin Newsom is handling his job—through the global pandemic, the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, the governor’s recall in 2021, and the midterm election in 2022.
Governor Newsom also receives positive ratings for his handling of several key challenges facing the state. Majorities of adults (57%) and likely voters (56%) say they approve of his handling of jobs and the economy. In the wake of his proposal to shrink state spending, majorities of adults (52%) and likely voters (53%) approve of his handling of the state budget and taxes. And majorities approve of his approach to environmental (59% adults, 59% likely voters) and education issues (60% adults, 57% likely voters).
However, these glowing reviews come with a caveat. Partisans have been deeply divided in their support for Gavin Newsom in PPIC surveys ever since he ran for governor in 2018. According to our latest survey, 83% of Democrats approve of the way that Newsom is handling his job, compared to 55% of independents and just 12% of Republicans. And notable for this road tour, the governor’s approval is thus higher in the “bluer” regions of the state (69% Los Angeles, 62% San Francisco Bay Area) than in the “purple” regions (51% Orange/San Diego, 49% Inland Empire, 46% Central Valley).
Newsom’s overall popularity may be all the more surprising given Californians’ mixed feelings about the direction of their state. About half of adults (49%) and likely voters (50%) say the state is going in the right direction—similar to the responses during most of Governor Jerry Brown’s second term and throughout Newsom’s tenure. However, once again, partisans are deeply divided (right direction: 73% Democrats, 42% independents, 10% Republicans).
As the governor takes his message across the state, which topics will resonate with the public?
The economy. Californians are most likely to name “jobs, the economy, and inflation” when asked to name the one issue that is most important for the governor and legislature to work on in 2023. More specifically:
- 66% are expecting “bad times” for the California economy during the year ahead.
- 62% believe the state is now in an economic recession.
- 61% say that recent price increases have caused financial hardship in their households.
- 45% are concerned about not having enough money to pay their rent or mortgage.
- About 30% are concerned that they or someone in their family will lose their job in the next year.
Homelessness and housing affordability. A majority views both homelessness and housing affordability as a “big problem” (70% each) in their part of California. In addition:
- 70% say that the presence of homeless people in their community has “increased” in the past 12 months.
- 60% say they are “very concerned” that the cost of housing will prevent their family’s younger generation from buying a home in their part of California.
- Majorities across partisan groups, state regions, and racial/ethnic groups express these concerns.
Climate change. Most Californians (74%) say it is necessary to take steps “right away” to counter the effects of climate change—a sense of urgency reflected in PPIC surveys that link global warming with the state’s ongoing struggles with drought and wildfires. Partisans disagree on this assessment, while solid majorities across state regions and racial/ethnic groups want action on climate change.
Despite these deep concerns over very difficult problems, solid majorities (61% adults, 64% likely voters) say that the governor and legislature can work together and get things done this year. Partisans are divided in their optimism (81% Democrats, 58% independents, 27% Republicans), while majorities across the state’s regions and racial/ethnic groups are more positive. Majorities have held this positive view throughout Newsom’s tenure.
Early in his final term, Governor Newsom has a mandate to act. He has now been elected twice and survived a recall—all by wide margins. Majorities approve of his job performance, even as many residents express strong concerns about the state’s problems. Clearly, Californians are pinning their hopes on their Democratic governor and his legislative super-majority to make real progress. Few are expecting any help from the divided federal government: just 27% think that President Biden and Congress will accomplish a lot and get things done. This puts pressure on the state’s elected officials to solve problems this year. If they do, trust in state government and its leaders may increase. If they don’t, voters might turn their attention to citizens’ initiatives and make their own policies for the 2024 ballot.