In the survey, scaling back government to spur the sluggish economy resonated more than further federal stimulus. A retooled and more nuanced Democratic message, which suggested that the rollback of corporate taxes, targeted spending cuts and investments in education would jump-start the economy, was received better. Even then, though, the Democrats' message lagged behind with only 43% support, compared with 45% for the Republican agenda.
Republicans voters as well are focused on the economy. Among the GOP faithful, 75% said they would prefer a 2012 presidential candidate who focuses on jobs and the economy, compared with 8% who wanted a national security focus and the 4% who saw social issues, such as abortion or same-sex marriage, as paramount.
By a 50%-to-37% ratio, Republicans said they would prefer a candidate who agreed with them on most issues, even if that might mean the nominee didn't stand as strong a chance of ousting Obama in 2012.
Despite the floundering economy, Obama remains a solidly popular figure in the Golden State, with a higher job approval rating (50%) than any other politician here. He scores far lower on specific issues, however. Voters give him poor grades on his handling of jobs (38% approval), taxes (37%), government spending (34%) and the federal deficit (32%).
Obama faces an uphill battle to push through Congress any landmark achievements that could alter those dynamics. Relations with the GOP are so frayed that the White House and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) sparred publicly last week over what date and time the president could deliver his jobs address.
Schnur said the poll showed the gridlock in Washington ultimately may have an unlikely culprit: the public.
"We tend to blame our politicians for not being willing to compromise, but judging by these poll results, before we start the blame game we might want to take a look in the mirror first," he said.
The USC Dornsife/Times poll surveyed 1,508 registered voters in California from Aug. 17 to 28. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.52 percentage points.