Political Parties and the Party System

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1 California Opinion Index A digest on how the California public views Political Parties and the Party System April 1999 Findings in Brief The proportion of Californians who follows what s going on in government and public affairs most of the time has declined sharply over the past 16 years from 50% in 1983 to 40% today. Double-digit declines have occurred among those with less than a post graduate education, adults under age 50, Latinos and black/african-americans. Californians have also become more cynical of the intentions of politicians over the past sixteen years, with a plurality (41%) now believing that politicians are generally looking out for themselves, and just 31% believe they are generally looking out for the public good. By a 58% to 34% margin Californians have a favorable view of the Democratic Party. Views of the Republican Party are more negative (49%) than positive (43%). The Democratic Party holds the largest edge over the GOP in favorability among strong liberals (+78), members of their own party (+66), black/african-americans (+59), moderate liberals (+49), Latinos (+29) and women (+20). An underlying reason why the Democratic Party is viewed more favorably than the GOP is because people see the former as being more interested in the problems that concern them most, by a 52% to 31% margin. Californians see both strengths and weaknesses in the political party system. Eight in ten (81%) agree there are important differences in the what the two parties stand for, and 69% say it is good to have the parties taking different sides to produce compromises. But, 76% believe that political system is too partisan, and 61% say it s better to be a political independent than a firm party supporter. Contributing to public cynicism of the political system is the view that it doesn t make much difference which party runs the country. Just 37% feel the party in power matters a great deal. However, greater than four in ten (43%) believe having elections has a big impact on making government pay attention to what people think, while another 37% feel they have some impact. Two in three (68%) believe that political officeholders are too fixed in their views and don t look at both sides of an issue before making a judgement. By a narrow 51% to 42% margin, the public thinks that the current party system produces good candidates and effective leaders. However, 69% majority agrees that while there may be a lot wrong with our political system, most of them are minor and can be improved upon. Big decline in attention to what s going on in government and public affairs Over the past sixteen years the proportion of Californians who say they follow most of the time what s going on in government and public affairs has declined sharply from 50% to 40%. Together, those who say they pay attention to government and public affairs just some of the time (37%), only now and then (17%) and hardly at all (6%) now represent a substantial majority (60%) of all residents. Table 1 How often do Californians follow what is going on in government and public affairs 1999 vs Most of the time 40% 50% Some of the time Only now and then Hardly at all 6 3 Drop in attention to public affairs cuts across all population segments A double-digit percentage point drop in attentiveness to governmental affairs has occurred since 1983 with those with less than a post graduate degree, all age groups under 50, Latinos and black/african-americans. Table 2 Proportion of Californians who follow civic events most of the time 1999 vs Statewide adults 40% 50% 10 Age or older Male Female Education High school grad or less Some college/trade school College graduate Post-graduate degree White (non-hispanic) Latino Black/African-American 35* 55* 20 Asian/other 30* ** N/A ** Base too small to provide reliable estimates N/A Not available Copyright 1999, Volume 2 by The Field Institute. This report may not be photocopied or reproduced without written permission. (ISSN )

2 Increase in cynicism of politicians Currently, more Californians (41%) believe that politicians generally do not have good intentions and are only looking out for themselves than feel politicians have good intentions and are primarily looking out for the public good (31%). In 1983 the reverse was true. At that time a 40% to 34% plurality of Californians believed politicians were generally more civic-minded, looking out for the public good, than selfserving and looking out for themselves. Table 3 Californians views about the intentions of politicians 1999 vs Good intentions/looking out for public good 31% 40% Not good intentions/looking out for themselves Mixed/some of each No opinion 2 4 Cynicism about politicians is broad-based The decline in the belief that politicians have good intentions spans virtually all age, gender, racial, ethnic and education subgroups of the population. There has been no change over the years in the very cynical view that people 60 and over have of politicians. Table 4 Proportion of Californians who believe politicians generally have good intentions 1999 vs Statewide adults 31% 40% 9 Age or older Male Female Education High school grad or less Some college/trade school College graduate Post-graduate degree White (non Hispanic) Latino Black/African-American 13* 33* 20 Asian/other 26* ** N/A ** Base too small to provide reliable estimates N/A Not available 2 Democratic Party viewed more favorably than GOP By a five to three margin (58% to 34%) Californians have a favorable view of the Democratic Party, while the GOP is viewed more unfavorably (49%) than favorably (43%). Democrats have a more favorable view of their party than Republicans do of the GOP. The Democratic Party has a big edge in the favorability gap over the GOP among various population groups: black/african-americans (59 point gap), Latinos (29 point), women (20 point) and Asians (17 point). Among white non-hispanics the edge that Democrats have over Republicans in favorable regard is just four points. While strong and moderate conservatives view the GOP much more favorably than they do the Democratic party, sizeable segments of these groups see the latter in a positive light. Conversely, not very large proportions of the moderately liberal and strongly liberal groups view the Republican party favorably. Table 5 Proportion of Californians holding a favorable view of the parties by population subgroups Dem. Democratic Republican Party Party Party Advantage* % % Statewide adults Democrats Republicans Others Strongly conservative Moderately conservative Middle-of-the-road Moderately liberal Strongly liberal Male Female White (non-hispanic) Latino Black/African-American Asian/other * Represents percentage point difference between those who have a favorable view of the Democratic and Republican parties Views of the Democratic Party detailed by subgroup While Californians hold a generally favorable view of the Democratic Party (58% to 34%), opinions vary a great deal by subgroup. Most likely to have a favorable view are selfidentified Democrats, liberals and black/african-americans, greater than 80% of whom have a positive view. In addition, about two in three women and Latinos currently view the Democratic Party favorably. Self-identified Republicans and strong conservatives have a generally negative view of the Democratic Party.

3 Table 6 Overall opinions of the Democratic Party No Favorable Unfavorable opinion Statewide adults 58% 34 8 Democrats 85% 10 4 Republicans 24% 68 8 Others 42% Strongly conservative 28% 69 3 Moderately conservative 49% Middle-of-the-road 58% Moderately liberal 79% 18 3 Strongly liberal 84% 9 7 Male 53% 39 8 Female 63% 28 9 White (non Hispanic) 52% 41 7 Latino 68% Black/African-American* 84% 6 10 Asian/other* 56% Democratic Party more interested than GOP in problems of greatest concern to Californians An underlying reason that the Democratic party is viewed more favorably than the GOP is because people see the former as being more interested in the problems that concern them. The view that the Democratic Party is more interested in the problems that concern them the most is held by greater than eight in ten liberals, blacks and self-identified Democrats. In addition, majorities of Latinos, Asians, men, women, and pluralities of white non-hispanics and political moderates also share this view. On the other hand, Republicans and strong conservatives are more likely to feel that the GOP rather than the Democratic Party is more interested in the problems that concern them the most. Moderate conservatives are about evenly divided on this question. A majority of those unaffiliated with either major party believe that neither party is interested or has no opinion. However among this group twice as many (29% to 14%) choose the Democratic Party as being more interested in their concerns. Views of the Republican Party by subgroup Californians opinions of the Republican Party are slightly more negative than positive, with 49% of the public holding an unfavorable view and 43% having a favorable view. Democrats, liberals and racial/ethnic minorities are more likely than others to have a negative impression of the GOP. On the other hand, political conservatives and self-identified Republicans are much more likely to have a positive view. Table 7 Overall opinions of the Republican Party No Favorable Unfavorable opinion Statewide adults 43% 49 8 Democrats 19% 76 5 Republicans 79% 16 5 Others 39% Strongly conservative 67% 28 5 Moderately conservative 62% 30 8 Middle-of-the-road 42% Moderately liberal 30% 66 4 Strongly liberal 6% 90 4 Male 43% 50 7 Female 43% 49 8 White (non Hispanic) 48% 47 5 Latino 39% 52 9 Black/African-American* 25% Asian/other* 39% Table 8 Which party is more interested in the problems that concern you most? Democratic Republican Neither/ Party Party no opinion Statewide adults 52% Democrats 87% 4 9 Republicans 9% Others 29% Strongly conservative 24% Moderately conservative 41% Middle-of-the-road 48% Moderately liberal 80% Strongly liberal 87% 4 9 Male 51% Female 53% White (non-hispanic) 44% Latino 61% Black/African-American* 85% 6 9 Asian/other* 58% 26 16

4 Public sees pluses and minuses with the party system The California public sees both strengths and weaknesses in the political party system. Eight in ten residents (81%) agree that there are important differences in what the Democratic and Republican parties stand for, while only 16% disagree. Many see virtues in this, as 69% agree that it is good to have the parties taking different sides on an issue because out of this comes effective compromises, while just 26% disagree. However, three in four (76%) agree and just 21% disagree that politics today are too partisan, with the parties at odds with one another to such an extent that government and society suffer. When it comes to party allegiances, most Californians believe that it is better to be a political independent than a firm party supporter by a 61% to 35% margin. These results are generally similar to those found in However, the current survey finds that slightly larger majorities of Californians now believe that there important differences between the two major parties and that politics today is too partisan than felt this way sixteen years ago. A slightly smaller majority now agrees that it is good to have the two parties taking different sides of an issue than felt this way sixteen years ago. Table 9 Californians opinions about the political party system 1999 vs Dis- Agree agree Dis- Agree agree There are important differences in what the Democratic and Republican parties stand for 81% 16 76% 22 Politics today is too partisan; the political parties are continually at odds to such an extent that government and society suffer 76% 21 70% 27 It is good to have the parties taking different sides on an issue and battling over their positions because out of this come effective compromises 69% 26 74% 24 It is better to be a firm party supporter than to be a political independent 35% 61 31% 65 Problems with the political system, but most are seen as minor While there is much cynicism about political parties, the public does not appear to be overly critical of the present political system. By a 69% to 29% margin Californians concur with the view that while there may be a lot wrong with our political system, most of them are minor and can be improved upon. This is similar to a 72% to 26% majority who felt this way sixteen years ago in However, the public is divided when it comes to the quality of leaders which the current political party system produces, with 51% agreeing that the system produces good candidates, but 42% disagreeing. These views are generally similar to those found in An additional question posed in the 1999 survey asked Californians about the open-mindedness of political officeholders. By a greater than two to one margin (68% to 27%) Californians believe that political officeholders these days are too fixed in their views and are not inclined to look at all sides of an issue before making a judgement. Table 10 Californians opinions about the political system 1999 vs Dis- Dis- Agree agree Agree agree There may be a lot that is wrong with our political system but most of them are minor and can be improved upon 69% 29 72% 26 Political officeholders these days are too fixed in their views and not inclined to look at all sides of an issue before making a judgement 68% 27 N/A N/A The present political party system generally produces good candidates and effective leaders 51% 42 52% 45 N/A Not asked in 1983 Note: Difference between the sum of each item s percentages for each year and 100% equals proportion with no opinion. Note: Difference between the sum of each item s percentages and 100% equals proportion with no opinion. 4

5 Public divided over how much it matters which political party is in power A factor which both leads to cynicism of politicians and contentment or passivity about the political system is that the public doesn t think it makes much difference which political party runs the country. Californians are evenly divided when asked how much difference they feel it makes which political party runs the country. About a third of the public (37%) thinks which political party is in power matters a great deal, another 35% feel it matters some, while 26% say it matters only a little or not at all. Political moderates, Asians, and especially those unaffiliated with either major party are less likely than others to feel the party in power matters a great deal, while black/african- Americans and strong ideologues of both the right and left are more likely to believe it does. Table 11 How much difference does it make which political party runs the country? A great deal Some Little or none Statewide adults 37% Democrats 43% Republicans 36% Others 16% Strongly conservative 45% Moderately conservative 38% Middle-of-the-road 31% Moderately liberal 40% Strongly liberal 49% Male 35% Female 39% White (non-hispanic) 35% Latino 40% Black/African-American* 55% Asian/other* 29% (Differences between the sum of each row s percentage and 100% equal proportion with no opinion.) Elections have an impact on governance Despite their reservations about the political system and politicians, a sizeable segment of the public thinks elections have an impact on government policy. Greater than four in ten Californians (43%) believe that elections have a good deal of impact on keeping the government responsive to the people, while another 37% feel that elections have some impact. This compares to 19% of the public who do not think that elections have that much impact. These findings are virtually identical to those found in There are only relatively small differences across subgroups of the state s population on this question. 5 Table 12 How much does having elections make the government pay attention to what the people think? A good deal Some Not much Statewide adults (1999) 43% (1983) 44% Age % % % % or older 49% Male 46% Female 39% White (non-hispanic) 43% Latino 42% Black/African-American* 40% 35 4 Asian/other* 43% Education High school grad or less 43% Some college/trade school 44% College graduate 33% Post-graduate degree 54% (Differences between the sum of each row s percentage and 100% equal proportion with no opinion.) Survey Methodology The findings in this report are based on a survey conducted March 3 14, 1999 among a representative sample of 1,005 California adults. Interviews were conducted by telephone in either English or Spanish. The sample was developed using a random digit dialing methodology, which selects telephone exchanges from a complete list of all residential exchanges within all area codes serving the state of California. From each exchange a random sample of telephone numbers are selected by adding random digits to the telephone exchange selected, thus permitting access to both listed and unlisted numbers. Within each household one adult is selected using a systematic procedures to be the respondent for the survey. Up to four calls are made to each randomly selected household to reach an eligible adult. The results have been weighted to known parameters of the California population relating to household size, age, sex, party registration and geographic area of the state. In theory the total statewide sample has a sampling error of +/- 3.3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level from what would be obtained had all California adults been interviewed in a similar manner. Findings based on subgroups of the sample have larger sampling error estimates. This and any other poll have possible sources of error apart from sampling error. It would be misleading to rely solely on sample error as a way of judging the accuracy of a poll. The 1983 survey referenced in this release was conducted using a comparable survey methodology and sample size.

6 Background The Field Institute is a non-partisan research organization supported by media, academic institutions, foundations and others for the purpose of conducting public opinion research on a variety of social, economic and political issues. The Institute undertakes regularly scheduled opinion and attitude surveys each year on a variety of topics as well as ad hoc studies in California, its primary area of focus. Revenue received by The Institute goes entirely toward covering the cost of its operations and in disseminating its reports. The Institute s services are available to all sectors of the public. In addition to its own ongoing research programs, it accepts research contracts from public or private organizations but not from partisan interests. All data from Institute studies are archived for use by scholars, policy makers, and other persons or organizations. Archived data sets are available from more than 200 studies conducted by The Field Institute and The Field Poll since Field Research Corporation Relationship The Field Institute was established in 1976 with funds and support from Field Research Corporation. FRC has contributed to The Institute all of the operations of The Field Poll, including its data archive going back to FRC s staff of more than fifty full-time professional and operations people, together with its large corps of experienced interviewers and its extensive in-house computer capability, provides basic data gathering and data processing services for The Institute on a sub-contract basis. The Institute s revenue comes from a variety of sources which fall into four main areas: media sponsors, academic sponsors, underwriters of ad hoc studies, as well as mailing list and on-line subscribers. Field Poll Media Sponsors A number of leading California media properties (newspapers and television stations) contribute to the operations of The Field Institute as sponsors of The Field Poll. Each media property pays an annual fee commensurate with its circulation or audience size. Academic Consortium The Institute s Academic Consortium serves institutions of higher learning on an annual contract basis. The Institute provides Consortium members data files and codebooks of surveys undertaken by The Institute which are widely used for instruction and research. Current members include the nine campuses of the University of California system and the twentytwo campuses of the California State University system. About The Field Institute subjects for study are generally those in public policy areas where The Institute s demonstrated objectivity can contribute to a greater understanding of a problem. The Field Poll The Field Poll was established in 1947 as The California Poll by Mervin Field and has operated continuously since that time. It is a unique, state-wide public opinion news feature service covering a wide range of political and social topics. Statewide surveys are made at frequent intervals throughout the year. Continuing measures are made of voter support for leading political figures vying for major state and federal elected offices, job ratings of important political figures, and reactions to significant political events. Voter awareness, understanding and predispositions for major campaign issues and controversial ballot propositions are also tracked over time. From these surveys The Field Poll issues from forty to sixty reports per year. Each Field Poll release consists of three to twelve double-spaced 8 1/2" x 11" pages of text and statistical data, plus a background sheet showing the details about the interviewing method, sample size, question wording, and other technical data. The California Opinion Index The California Opinion Index regularly charts public attitudes on such issues as taxes and government spending, economic well-being, crime, immigration, education and the schools, political demography, the initiative process and other important state issues. Each California Opinion Index report is printed in a four to eight page newsletter format and are provided to mailing list subscribers of The Field Poll at no additional cost. Availability of Reports All Field Poll and California Opinion Index reports are available to individuals or organizations on an annual basis for a fee of $ There are two methods of report transmission. By Mail Reports are mailed to subscribers the day before its publication date and are usually received the day of or the day after publication. On-line Subscriptions can be ordered on-line through the web site of Subscribers are provided a password to access Field Poll reports at 9:00 a.m. on the day of their publication. All previously issued on-line reports can also be accessed from this site at no cost. Underwriters of Ad Hoc Studies Special ad hoc studies are frequently underwritten by sponsors from foundations, government and institutions. The Officers Officers of The Field Institute are Mervin Field, Mark DiCamillo and Dr. E. Deborah Jay. The Field Institute 550 Kearny Street, Suite 900 San Francisco, California (415) FAX (415)

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