Sense of economic unease drifts across state 

California’s mood has soured noticeably during only the last 60 days. More than half of the residents polled by the Public Policy Institute of California thought that bad economic times would come in the next 12 months, a significant 12 percent jump since January.

A majority also believed the state is going in the wrong direction, up 10 percent from last year. Nearly two-thirds said California is run by a few big interests rather than for the benefit of all the people, while less than one-third believed the state government can be trusted to do the right thing all or even most of the time.

To some extent this seems inconsistent with the survey’s findings thatGov. Arnold Schwarzenegger still gets solid majority approval for his job performance, although his ratings have slipped 7 percent since January. Approval of the Legislature’s performance has climbed from the cellar to 41 percent, a near-record.

Founded in 1994 by an endowment from Hewlett-Packard’s William Hewlett, the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute conducts polling virtually nonstop. The "Californians and Their Government" series, of which the new survey is No. 22, comes out every other month.

The rising California anxiety level noted in this latest poll might reflect, at least partially, a deepening distrust of federal government actions. Nearly 70 percent said they do not trust Washington, D.C., most of the time; they believe the federal government wastes a lot of tax money; and they disapprove of President George W. Bush’s job performance.

Some of the more localized factors fueling the statewide malaise could include falling home prices, rising gas prices, stock market instability, job insecurity, retirement and health care worries, and increased foreclosures, according to Mark Baldassare, institute president and poll director.

The grass-roots concerns expressed by polled Californians diverged widely from what Sacramento politicians currently seem most attentive to. The public saw immigration as the most important state issue today. Jobs, the economy and education followed close behind.

Despite the concerns about immigration, almost two-thirds believed immigrants benefit California with their hard work and job skills. Residents said illegal immigrants should even be allowed to apply for work permits, but should not be eligible for driver’s licenses or subsidized health care.

The public was not nearly as interested in the politicians’ priorities of early presidential primary and loosened term limits. People did strongly favor redistricting reform and they agreed the state’s health care system is badly in need of fixing, although those were not top priorities.

The overall poll trends indicate Californians feel they have more to worry about now. But they still appear to have more confidence in the continued bipartisan approach of Gov. Schwarzenegger and the legislative leaders than in what is coming out of Washington.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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