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THE TIMES POLL

Davis' Job Rating Falls to All-Time Low of 27%

March 09, 2003|Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writer

As the state has sunk into fiscal crisis, Gov. Gray Davis' popularity has dropped to the lowest level of his governorship, with just 27% of Californians approving of his job performance and 64% disapproving, a new Los Angeles Times poll has found.

Yet California voters, who reelected Davis four months ago, oppose the budding effort to recall him from office, the poll found.

The survey paints a bleak picture of Californians worried about the stalled economy and angry at Davis over the state budget morass. They expect taxes to rise and public programs to be cut -- although they find few options acceptable -- and they blame the Democratic governor more than anyone for the pain ahead.

"I think he's done a lousy job," said Sam Battersby of Chino, an independent who summed up an opinion shared by many of the 1,300 poll respondents. "I just think you'd almost have to be derelict in your duty to allow this to happen."

The breadth of ill will toward Davis is striking. A majority of nearly every bloc of Californians gives him negative job ratings: men and women; Democrats, Republicans and independents; conservatives, moderates and liberals.

Among Republicans, Davis is extremely unpopular; nine out of 10 disapprove of his job performance.

But even core supporters have soured on him. About 54% of his fellow Democrats rate him unfavorably. Most blacks and Latinos also give him bad job ratings. Even union members -- a key constituency for a governor with deep ties to organized labor -- disapprove of Davis' job performance, 69% to 21%, the poll found.

The No. 1 reason that Californians give for their disapproval of Davis is the state budget shortfall, which the governor pegs at nearly $35 billion over the next 16 months. He has proposed $8 billion in tax increases and more than twice that in cuts.

"The state is a financial wreck," said San Diego Republican Al Ludwig, 62, a semiretired telecommunications engineer. "As governor, I think he's responsible."

Ludwig worries about the prospect of teacher layoffs in San Diego, and fears that the lack of state money will ultimately harm local police and fire services.

"These are the things we're supposed to have to protect California citizens, and I lay it all on his doorstep," he said. "I think it all comes to the energy thing."

Indeed, the California energy crisis endures as a source of popular bitterness toward Davis. After the budget problems, it is the reason cited most often by poll respondents for their disapproval of the governor.

"I think he sold us out," said construction worker Melvin Collie, 46, a Los Angeles Democrat.

Armed with mounting evidence that Enron and other power traders used sham transactions to jack up prices during the energy crisis, Davis is leading the state's pursuit of billions of dollars in refunds.

Yet the poll found that 61% of Californians still do not consider Davis to be a decisive leader, a perception that has dogged him since his handling of the energy debacle first drove down his popularity ratings two years ago.

On education, his signature issue, more than two out of three Californians give Davis low marks, and he fares almost as poorly on his stewardship of the economy. Californians also harbor doubts about his integrity, the poll found.

"I constantly have the feeling that he's beholden to special-interest groups," said San Francisco Democrat Markley Morris, 69, a retired technical writer. "That seems to infect our whole political system, but he seems to be one sad example of it."

Yet for all the grousing, voters are skeptical of the recall effort launched last month by Davis opponents: By 51% to 39%, they oppose a special election to unseat the governor.

"He was elected by a majority of the people to do the job, and I haven't seen anything that's been that drastic since the election to warrant his being recalled at this point," said retired police officer Martin Horan, 58, a Yuba City Democrat.

When those who initially favored the recall were told that it could cost taxpayers about $25 million, roughly one in four said they no longer would support it.

"It's a waste of time and a waste of money," said Battersby, 62, who solicits business for a truck-hauling company.

Republican Ed Grubbe of Bishop, a construction consultant, said recalls should be reserved for cases of criminal wrongdoing, a standard Davis does not meet.

"If someone was really totally administering something to the point that it was fraudulent, I would say, yeah, recall him," he said.

Most voters said they had not closely followed news about the recall attempt. The survey found 44% believe that it stems from Davis' mismanagement of the state, as the recall's proponents contend, but 36% dismiss it as a Republican attempt to overturn the November election. Ten percent see it as a mix of both.

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