Though Taxes Are Deemed Too High, California Public Approve of Governor Gavin Newsom’s Job Performance

August 14, 2020
Approval Rating | California
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In the 2018 Gubernatorial Election in California, Democrat Gavin Newsom was elected with 61.9% of the vote. Eighteen months into his term, research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies found that 55% of Californians approve of the Governor’s job performance.

Less than a quarter (22%) of those polled disapprove of Newsom’s performance since January 2019. A fifth (20%) of the California public neither approve nor disapprove of Newsom, which highlights that a significant minority may have a mixed view of the Governor or are reserving judgement until later in his gubernatorial term. Overall, Newsom has a net approval rating of +33%.

Although Newsom’s approval rating remains strong, it is significantly lower than at an earlier stage of the coronavirus pandemic. In April, polling conducted by Harvard, Rutgers, Northeastern and Northwestern universities measured Newsom’s approval rating at +70%, while in late May it was +58%.  The Governor was criticised for allowing counties to reopen despite not meeting the state’s initial requirements for infection rate. Across the last several weeks, indoor restaurant dining, bars, and gyms have been closed again. Schools in the state are planning to re-start in the fall with full distance learning.

Despite California’s inability to contain the coronavirus pandemic, Newsom retains strong support among older respondents. 65% of those aged 65 or over approve of Governor Newsom’s job performance since January 2019. In contrast, just 35% of younger respondents (aged 18-24) view the Governor’s term favourably, yet a plurality (39%) neither approve nor disapprove of his performance.

Although Newsom holds a -22% rating among 2016 Trump voters, almost a third (30%) approve of his performance so far. The current Governor of California continues to be supported by the overwhelming majority of Democrats in the Golden State. Newsom holds a +65% rating among those who voted for Clinton in 2016, and a +63% rating among those who intend to vote for Biden in November’s Presidential Election.

Governor Newsom is under increasing pressure by Democrats in California’s legislature to support tax rises for individuals earning $1 million or over. California’s top marginal tax rate is 13.3%, which is higher than any other state in the USA, yet Assembly Bill 1253 would increase the tax percentage for higher income California residents to as much as 16.8%. We found that a strong majority (68%) of Californians believe that taxes are too high and should be lowered. Only 5% of respondents consider that taxes in California are too low and should be raised, while a fifth (20%) think tax levels are about right and should stay the same.

Notably, half (50%) of likely Biden voters think taxes are too high and should be lowered. Only around a quarter (27%) consider the current tax level about right, and a small minority (6%) believe taxes are too low in California. There is no discernible difference in opinion depending on the age of respondents.

Although the Democrats have overwhelming majorities in both the California State Senate and Assembly, a new and permanent increase in income tax may be opposed by moderate, pro-business Democrats. Governor Newsom has yet to state his position on the matter. In general, Californians are opposed to tax rises, despite the economic pressures caused by the coronavirus pandemic, although it remains to be seen if the state’s population would support increasing taxes on the richest in the state.

Ultimately, although his approval ratings have declined from a peak in spring, Governor Newsom continues to be viewed positively across California’s demographic lines. As California considers how to address the economic fall-out from the coronavirus, Newsom may be forced to take difficult decisions in relation to taxation, which could alienate certain sections of his base. 

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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