SACRAMENTO — Support has plunged for Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to raise billions of dollars in taxes, a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll shows, with less than half of voters planning to cast ballots in favor of the measure.
Only 46% of registered voters now support Brown's initiative, a 9-point drop over the last month, and 42% oppose it. The findings follow a lackluster month of campaigning by the governor, who had spent little time on the stump and found himself fighting off attacks from backers of a separate ballot measure that would raise taxes for schools.
Although Brown recently launched a frantic push for votes, both proposals could fail. Tax measures rarely gain support in the closing days of a campaign.
INTERACTIVE: Guide to California's 2012 propositions
Proposition 30 would temporarily raise taxes on individuals earning more than $250,000 a year and impose a quarter-cent hike in the state sales tax. Enthusiasm for the governor's plan has fallen across the political spectrum.
The steepest decline is among voters who register without a party preference — a crucial voting bloc for Brown. Support from those Californians dropped from 63% a month ago to 48%.
"Proposition 30 has been under attack from the left and the right," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "It has taken a toll."
The USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times poll surveyed 1,504 registered voters by telephone from Oct. 15 to Oct. 21. It was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Democratic firm, in conjunction with American Viewpoint, a Republican company. The margin of error is 2.9 percentage points.
The poll yielded some hopeful signs for Brown. His approval rating, now at 45%, has not dropped along with his initiative, suggesting that he can be a credible pitchman for undecided voters, the largest group of which are fellow Democrats. A strong turnout for President Obama on election day could also give him a boost.
The governor is now hitting the campaign trail, with events aimed at mobilizing Democrats, whose support for his proposal slid in the last month from 72% to 65%. He has been making stops at colleges and churches and rallying Latino leaders.
Brown campaigned this week with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in Inglewood and then bounded to events in San Diego, Bakersfield and Fresno, dismissing campaign watchers who say his engagement may have come too late.
"People are just starting to pay attention now," the governor said in an interview Tuesday in San Diego. "I'm going to spend the next two weeks doing everything I can to spread the word."
Meanwhile, Brown's opponents have been arguing that Sacramento cannot be trusted with the public's money and should cut waste before hiking taxes. Some poll respondents were skeptical of the governor's warning that billions of dollars will be cut from public schools and universities if Proposition 30 fails.
"I just think they're using that as a scare tactic," said Michael Anderson, a 63-year-old retiree from Alturas, in northeastern California, who is not registered with a political party.
Blake Stephens is a 21-year-old Republican and insurance agent from Hollister. He said a recent accounting scandal, in which state parks department officials hid away tens of millions of dollars, confirmed for him that "there's no accountability in Sacramento."
Others agreed with the governor that the ballot measure reflects the cost of providing the services voters expect.
"If you want schools, police and fire, you have to pay what those services are worth," said Miriam Sherry, 31, of Cupertino, who states no party preference and said she was leaning in favor of Proposition 30. "We are asking for a heck of a lot of services out of the company we call our government."
Another tax-hike tax measure on next month's ballot, Proposition 38, sank 6 points in the poll and continues to lag behind Brown's. Just 28% of voters support Proposition 38, down from 34% in September.
That measure, bankrolled by millionaire civil rights lawyer Molly Munger, would increase income taxes for most Californians to raise funds primarily for schools and early childhood education. Brown has feared the measure would siphon support from his plan and confuse voters. He may have been right.
"I'm voting for both of them, but I don't even know what that means," said Nick Drews, a 33-year-old Democrat in Costa Mesa.
If both pass, the one with the most "yes" votes takes effect under state law, although there could be court fights over some provisions.
A quarter of the Californians supporting Proposition 38 are not inclined to also vote for Brown's measure, however. That group has grown substantially since last month, amid a blitz of ads funded by Munger that denounced the governor's plan.
Another challenge for Brown has been keeping public employee unions focused on his effort. Their campaign dollars and get-out-the-vote efforts are crucial.
But the top priority for unions this year is defeating Proposition 32, which would curb their influence by preventing paycheck deductions for political purposes. That measure is trailing, 39% to 46%.
With the threat of that measure dissipating, Brown is seeking to bring labor's attention back his way. At a campaign rally in Bakersfield this week, he said voters face a simple choice.
"This is second-grade arithmetic," he said. "Yes on 30 — money into schools. No on 30 — money out of schools.... There is no compromise."
Megerian reported from Sacramento and York from San Diego and Bakersfield.