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Pandemic remains top issue for increasingly stressed California voters

Pollsters find Omicron wave is increasing Californians’ concerns about the virus and end of the pandemic though support remains strong for Governor Gavin Newsom.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — The Omicron surge is stoking Californians’ concerns about being hospitalized due to Covid-19 while the pandemic remains the top issue for likely voters, according to a new statewide poll released late Wednesday.

The latest survey from the Public Policy Institute of California revealed 42% of respondents are at least somewhat concerned about ending up in the hospital with Covid-19, a 14% increase from a poll taken last May. Californians appear to be growing less optimistic about the end of the pandemic as 67% of likely voters said the worst has crested, down from 86% in a previous survey.

As for the state’s myriad problems, voters again pegged Covid-19 as the top issue for Governor Gavin Newsom with 60% claiming to be satisfied with the Democrat’s handling of the pandemic. 

“With two in three saying the worst is behind us, and four in ten concerned about getting the coronavirus and requiring hospitalization, worries about Covid have increased during the omicron surge,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

The California poll comes just days after a Monmouth University poll revealed 70% of Americans believe the virus is not going anywhere and that it’s time to accept it as a fixture of the daily routine. Just one-third of the Monmouth respondents said the U.S. will get the outbreak under control and see a return to normalcy by the end of the year.

Like previous polls, Wednesday’s found a stark partisan divide and demographic differences in California when it comes to the severity of the two-year-old pandemic.

Over three in four Republicans answered the state has seen the worst of the pandemic compared to two-thirds of Democrats and independents. Among racial groups, Latinos were most concerned about being hospitalized with Covid-19 at 21% followed by Asian Americans (19%), African Americans (17%) and whites (11%). 

When asked to name the state’s top issues, 19% said the pandemic trailed by homelessness at 13% and jobs, economy and inflation with 12%.

Meanwhile concerns about the economic downturn appear to be fading as just over half said California was experiencing some level of recession, down dramatically from the 70% polled in January 2021. The poll found Republicans and respondents in the Central Valley, Inland Empire, and Orange/San Diego areas were more likely to believe the state is in a downturn.

After defeating a recall attempt last September, Gov. Newsom’s polling numbers remain steady as he begins his reelection bid.

The incumbent’s approval numbers increased to 56%, up slightly from a PPIC snapshot taken just before the recall election. Support for the former mayor of San Francisco is highest among Democrats (80%) and the poll found women were more likely than men to grant their approval. In addition, the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Areas continue to back Newsom at a higher rate than the rest of the Golden State. 

Newsom continues to enjoy strong support in the heavily blue state, but voters are tiring of President Joe Biden.

Over 70% of likely California voters said they approved of Biden when he took office but the latest PPIC survey reveals his support has plummeted to 53% in just over a year. Plus, only 38% said the country is going in the right direction, down from 52% from January 2021.  

California voters have higher hopes for the future of their state than the rest of the U.S., says Baldassare.

“Fewer than four in ten think the nation is headed in the right direction, while more are optimistic about the state’s outlook,” said Baldassare.

Wednesday’s poll used a sample size of 1,640 adults across five geographic regions and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5%.

In the aftermath of just the second gubernatorial recall election in state history, the PPIC also gauged voters’ interest in tweaking the state’s direct democracy framework. 

Asked about raising the signature requirement to qualify a recall attempt, 50% said they would support moving the current threshold from 12% of the votes cast in the previous election for that office to 20%. Another 50% said they would support having the lieutenant governor take over in the event a governor was recalled.

In a corresponding blog post, Baldassare says the support for change appears to be there and questioned whether the Legislature will put the issue before voters this fall. 

“Will they make the reforms necessary for a more effective system or will they allow it to sputter—and perhaps even fail? The answer may ultimately depend on how much its participants are willing to adapt and change. This year, the legislature and voters have an opportunity to take action.”

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