Californians most concerned about water, the drought and state's economy, new Stanford poll shows

A new poll by the Hoover Institution and the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford reveals that California's voters are most worried about the drought and state's economic recovery.

water irrigation pipe in dry California farmland

A new Golden State Poll shows California voters rank dealing with water problems and strengthening the state’s economy as top policy concerns facing the state.

As California begins a new year and a hectic legislative session in Sacramento, a new Golden State Poll conducted by the Stanford University-based Hoover Institution finds California’s voters most concerned with the ongoing drought and the state’s economic recovery.

“California’s electorate is, in a word, adult,” said Hoover Institution research fellow Bill Whalen, who follows California politics and policy. “Despite the distractions of an election year and surplus revenue to spend in Sacramento, it expects lawmakers to act responsibly and sensibly.”

The latest Hoover Golden State Poll, administered by the survey research firm YouGov and designed in conjunction with Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West, sampled 1,800 Californians (age 18 and above) statewide from Nov. 30 to Dec. 13.

Among the poll’s questions, voters were asked to prioritize 21 policy concerns facing the state. The top finishers were dealing with California’ water problems, strengthening the state’s economy, improving the job situation and balancing the state’s budget. The full poll results for the survey, which has a margin of error of +/-3.31 percent for the full weighted sample, can be found here.

In addition, the survey tested three items that will be debated in California in 2016: a mileage tax on automobiles, Gov. Jerry Brown’s Delta water-tunnel proposal, and whether funds from the construction of California’s high-speed rail should be diverted to other infrastructure projects.

Results and findings

The poll showed that:

  • By a 2-to-1 margin (56 to 27 percent), voters opposed replacing the current state gasoline tax with a mileage tax. Given more information about privacy concerns associated with validating miles driven, opposition grew to 65 percent.
  • Voters split on California Gov. Jerry Brown’s push for the Delta water tunnel: 33 percent supported the governor’s handling of the issue, 34 percent opposed, and 33 percent neither supported nor opposed.
  • 53 percent of Californians would vote for a ballot measure ending high-speed rail and using the unspent money on water-storage projects.

Hoover Institution research fellow Carson Bruno said, “Whether it is continuing to fund the high-speed rail, pushing forward with the Delta tunnels, revisiting how to reduce petroleum use or designing a new model for funds for transportation infrastructure maintenance, Gov. Brown and the legislature will find difficulty in convincing the public that their approach is the best.”

Bruno added, “While elected officials obviously have their preferred policy causes, they must not forget the priorities of those who sent them to Sacramento.”

Economic views

As has been custom since the survey’s inception, the Golden State Poll gauged Californians’ financial and economic mindsets. Among the findings are the following:

  • Asked how they’ve fared financially the past year, 24 percent said they’re better off, 24 percent said worse off.
  • Job mobility also yielded mixed results: 48 percent expressed some confidence in being able to make a lateral job move in California within six months, 46 percent weren’t confident.
  • “Right track/wrong track” also yielded a split verdict: 27 percent said California was better compared to a year ago, 38 percent said a little or a lot worse.

The January-February issue of Eureka, a Hoover Institution publication focusing on policy and political and economic issues confronting California, was released in conjunction with the Golden State Poll. The volume centers on the culture of Sacramento’s governance and how it may affect two major policy issues in 2016: transportation infrastructure funding and further action on climate change.

Bruno provides an in-depth analysis of the Golden State Poll results in the same issue of Eureka.

The Hoover Institution Golden State Poll is conducted quarterly by researchers at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, in partnership with the survey research firm YouGov. The January 2016 Hoover investigators are Carson Bruno, Lanhee Chen, Tammy Frisby and Bill Whalen, with additional content guidance provided by Bruce Cain, the Spence and Cleone Eccles Family Director of Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West.

The Hoover Institution, Stanford University, is a public policy research center devoted to the advanced study of economics, politics, history and political economy – both domestic and foreign – as well as international affairs. With its eminent scholars and world-renowned Library & Archives, the Hoover Institution seeks to improve the human condition by advancing ideas that promote economic opportunity and prosperity and secure and safeguard peace for America and all mankind.

Media Contacts

Jenny Mayfield, Hoover Institution: (650) 723-0603,
Clifton B. Parker, Stanford News Service: (650) 725-0224,