Poll: Despite surging economy, Californians anxious about future and want change

Californians may have just voted overwhelmingly for more of the same—boosting Democratic majorities in both chambers of the Legislature and replacing one Democratic governor with another for the first time since the 1880’s—but many are still eager for major changes to state policy. And a majority are downright pessimistic about California’s future.

Those results, which would seem at odds with recent indicators that paint a sunny macroeconomic picture for the state, come via a new survey from the Public Policy Institute of California.

Half of all respondents, and 60 percent of respondents identified as likely voters, predicted that children growing up today in California will face a bleaker financial future than their parents. That impending decline could arrive sooner than we think. Asked if California should expect an economic downturn in the next year, respondents were split. And like the state’s economic growth, that optimism was not evenly distributed: majorities of coastal city residents foresee good times ahead, while pessimism clustered in the Inland Empire and Central Valley.

The number of Californians who believe “the good times might be over” was “decidedly different than even a few weeks before the election,” said Mark Baldassare, president of the institute.

The rising pessimism could be the result of a waning stock market or news of the county’s still-unresolved trade war. But a general sense of economic anxiety is also in keeping with a long-term trend since the last decade’s Great Recession, he said.

“We’re at this point in the recovery which should have given people more of a sense of economic security and there are a lot of people who feel insecure,” said Baldassare.

Evidently: 67 percent of respondents said that the state was divided into haves and have-nots—and 45 percent considered themselves have-nots.

Among them, African Americans, Latinos, people without any college education, non-citizens and renters were disproportionately represented. Many of those groups are also more likely to be non-voters. Sure enough, 59 percent of those not registered to vote considered themselves on the losing end of the state’s economic fortunes, compared to only 36 percent of likely voters.

That grim economic assessment seems to have translated into higher support for expanded social programs. Fifty-seven percent of adults said they want lawmakers to spend some of the state’s multi-billion dollar budget surplus on increasing education, health and human service funding. One in six wanted universal healthcare to be a “high” or “very high” policy priority for incoming state lawmakers. A majority said the same of tuition-free community college.

But only 48 percent said there should be such focus on statewide universal pre-school, one of Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom’s top priorities.

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