Poll Finds Most Californians Support Non-Partisan Primary

A Field Poll released Tuesday showed widespread discontent with the budget deal, the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, but revealed broad support for legislation that would allow open primaries.

Voters are willing to get behind the nonpartisan-primary proposal by a 2-to-1 margin. The election change has support from both parties — that’s ironically appropriate — as well as among nonpartisans.

The support is so huge in a survey last week of 761 registered voters — 58 percent in favor — that opponents can’t even argue that a large chunk of voters haven’t made up their minds. Neither can the opposition claim that the poll’s margin of error renders the result invalid. Only 15 percent of the voters were undecided, and the poll’s margin of error is plus/minus 3.6 percent.

That means that at this very moment, there’s no possible way to rationalize away the clear message that voters want the system to change. It’s a message officials have heard before, though they fought the change all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

That also means that a ton of money and just as much exaggeration will be thrown at the issue. The parties have thrown both at the issue before when they’ve had to.

It’s a long time between now and June 2010, when the proposition will appear on the ballot. But the opponents know their history: Proposition 198 overwhelmingly approved in every county in the state 1996 but overturned when both parties waged a legal battle.

The politically cynical will find it interesting that the major parties can work together when the issue is self-preservation. The parties’ spin was that a nonpartisan system violates their First Amendment rights. Look for more of the same this time around.

Even though we’re more than a year out, the hard-core politicking is starting already, with a state Democratic operative bringing Iraq into the equation. “Why are we spending a trillion dollars so the Iraqis can have multiple parties to choose from, and we ourselves in California say we’re gonna make a system where maybethere’ll be only one party to choose from,” Bob Mullholland said last week.

Why? It could be because the voters aren’t particularly happy with anyone in the current system or with the results it produces.

In the recent Field Poll, 55 percent of the voters were dissatisfied with the recently passed state budget. Among those likely to vote in the May 19 special election on tax measures that were part of the budget deal, unhappiness is even higher, with a full 65 percent in thedissatisfied category.

Republicans (64 percent) were more unhappy than Democrats (50 percent) and nonpartisans (51 percent). No surprise there.

Not many folks hold hope for the future, either, with 73 percent of those polled saying the state is headed in the wrong direction. For those determined to look on the sunny side, that’s not a Field Poll record low.

That came in September 1992, as unemployment continued to rise, a number of natural catastrophes hit California and the state faced a $14.3 billion budget gap. That number seems bucolic now.

Most of today’s voters — 54 percent — also disapprove of Schwarzenegger, with Republicans and Democrats holding near-equal dim views.

Better to be the governor than a legislator, though. A mere 18 percent of voters approve of the Legislature’s performance, a number than hasn’t significantly changed since the last poll in September, before the budget deal was passed.