Reporting from Sacramento — California voters have a generally positive view of the massive federal healthcare package signed into law by President Obama last month, providing a potential boost statewide to the Democrats who pushed it through Congress, according to a new Times/USC poll.
Republican leaders, campaigning against the bill, have warned Democrats that their votes would weigh them down in November's elections. Although that may be true in more conservative parts of the country, the opposite appears to be developing here.
By a margin of 46% to 29%, California voters surveyed said they would be more likely to vote for a politician who had supported the health bill. And just over half the voters polled said they believed the country would be better off because of the bill.
On another hot-button issue, immigration, the poll found a continued sharp polarization between Democrats and Republicans, but also a shift of voter sentiment away from proposals to take away all social services, including access to schools and emergency medical treatment, from illegal residents.
Large majorities in the poll supported two alternative proposals: one that would couple stronger enforcement at the border with a temporary worker program and one that would combine stronger border enforcement with a path to eventual citizenship for illegal residents who perform community service, pay back taxes and learn English.
The support for both a guest-worker program and a citizenship option were notable in part because they come at a time when California voters remain deeply pessimistic about the state's economy.
More than a third of those polled said they expect the state's economy to continue to worsen, while only about a quarter said they thought it had begun to recover. Another third said they thought the economy had hit bottom but not yet started to grow. Those views are more negative than what surveys recently found in several other states.
Asked if the state was headed in the right direction, 82% of voters said it was not. Far fewer, 55%, said the same of the country overall.
The Los Angeles Times/USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences poll surveyed 1,515 registered voters from March 23 to 30. It was conducted by a bipartisan team of polling companies based in the Washington, D.C., area: Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic firm, and American Viewpoint, a Republican firm. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.
On the health bill, 35% of those polled said that if their senator or U.S. representative had voted for the legislation, they would be "much more likely" to support them in November. Eleven percent said they would be "somewhat more likely" to vote that way.
On the other side, 20% said they would be "much less likely" and 9% said "somewhat less likely" to support that lawmaker. Nineteen percent said the health vote would have no effect on their support, and 5% said they did not know.
Californians view the healthcare package "much more favorably than what we are finding nationally," said Stan Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. "I don't think we will see numbers like this in other states."
In addition to support from Democrats, the healthcare bill appeared to have backing among nonpartisan voters. By a margin of 48% to 23%, those who registered without stating a political party said they would be more likely to support a representative or senator who voted yes.
In follow-up interviews, many respondents who were optimistic about the healthcare package said they had yet to grasp its particulars but thought it better than the status quo.
"I'm still learning a lot of the details," said Stephanie Martinez, 33, a stay-at-home mother in East Los Angeles. "From the things I do know and understand, I think people who don't have insurance and can't afford it will be able to get something."
Pollster Linda DiVall of American Viewpoint said support for the bill is probably playing a role in the more positive view that California voters have about the direction of the country than the state, especially as Sacramento is paralyzed by fiscal crisis. "They see the federal government as having an achievement in terms of healthcare passage," she said.
David Sutcliff, a 37-year-old pharmacy technician in Orange, was among the poll respondents who expressed that view, saying that he was pleased to see momentum on getting more people insured.
Asked if he understood the mechanics of the bill, he said: "Not at all." But, he said, "I just know we have an issue with healthcare. To see something being done about it makes me happy."
Like many others polled, Sutcliff supported the new legislation even as he doubted that he or his family will see benefits from it soon. "It'll be years before anything happens," he said.
In the poll, 41% said they believed they or their families would "see benefits from this healthcare reform bill in the next few years," while 47% said they do not expect that.