High gas prices and housing affordability put pressure on California voters

Coronavirus cases are falling and the state’s unemployment rate is down, but most California voters still say the Golden State is heading in the wrong direction, with high gas prices, low affordability of housing and persistent homelessness cited as the greatest challenges.

In a new survey of some of the most important economic topics, nearly 6 in 10 voters said the state was on the wrong track and more than 70% called high gas prices a ‘very serious’ problem. or “rather serious”. The survey of registered voters by UC Berkeley’s Institute for Government Studies was co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.

“California people are giving state leadership a negative rating,” said Berkeley Institute poll director Mark Di Camillo. “It coincides with how voters perceive their personal financial situation.”

In response to the pain at the pump, voters said they would likely cut back on their driving.

However, few said they expected to switch to public transit. Only 25% said they were likely to take the bus or train more often.

In contrast, 7 in 10 said they were likely to drive less in town or cancel vacations or weekend trips due to high prices.

The pain of high gasoline prices, which last month averaged $5.73 a gallon statewide, up $1.79 from a year ago , is felt most keenly by low-income Californians, black and Latino residents and those under 30, according to the survey.

Among California voters earning less than $40,000 a year, 81% said gas prices were a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” issue. At the other end of the income scale, 57% of those earning more than $200,000 said prices were not a serious issue.

Gas prices were described as a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem by 79% of black voters, 85% of Latino voters and 75% of voters under 30, according to the survey.

Lorena Mendez, an employee of an airline catering company at Los Angeles International Airport, struggles each week to decide how to fill her tank and buy groceries, among other household expenses. She bought a house in Bakersfield because housing is more affordable there, but her commute to LAX is two hours each way. Some days, rather than driving home, she stays with her mother, who lives closer to her work, to save gas.

“Everything got more expensive, gas and groceries,” she said in Spanish. “It’s hard to know which bill to pay first.”

Until recently, Mendez said, she was making about $22 an hour, but her bosses cut her pay to about $18 an hour. She hopes to work overtime to make up for the lower pay.

“I was barely able to pay my bills, and now that everything is getting more expensive, it’s a struggle,” she said.

For many workers like Mendez who have long commutes, public transit is not a viable option. The poll asked voters who said they weren’t likely to take public transit more often to choose up to two main reasons. Some of the most common responses include that buses or trains are not convenient to get to their destination (45%) or home (35%), that public transit takes longer than driving ( 39%) or that the service is not frequent enough (20%).

A significant number said they did not feel safe waiting for or taking a bus or train (34%) or that they feared catching COVID-19 or another illness (16%). Security issues were more prevalent in Los Angeles and Orange counties than in the San Francisco Bay Area or San Diego. Few voters — 3% statewide — said public transit is too expensive.

In 2016, voters in Los Angeles County showed how frustrated they were with traffic. They approved a half-cent sales tax that will pump out $120 billion over four decades to build a massive rail system that can take commuters from the foothills to the sea and improve highways.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has already spent $9.2 billion over the past 10 years on transit projects, including a yet-to-be-open light rail line that connects the Mid-City area to South Bay, a regional connection line and a line extension. which connects the Westside to downtown LA.

Academics said voter reluctance to use public transit in response to gas prices was not surprising.

“While gasoline prices have risen, most roads and parking lots continue to be free and plentiful, providing an incentive for their use,” said Jacob Lawrence Wasserman, research project manager at the Institute. of Transportation Studies from UCLA. “And, with public transit lacking the priority and service to reliably get Angelenos to many destinations, many have to endure higher gas prices instead.”

Meanwhile, 56% to 35% voters supported state efforts to build a high-speed rail system between Los Angeles and San Francisco that is already expected to be more than three times the estimated original cost when the voters approved the funding in 2008.

Registered Democrats favored the bill 73% to 18%, but Republicans opposed it 66% to 25%. Nonpartisan voters backed the bill 55% to 35%.

The gloomy attitude toward state leadership was shared, to varying degrees, by California voters of nearly every age group, ethnicity, and political stripe. Just over half of Democrats said the state was heading in the wrong direction, and 93% of Republicans agreed with that grim assessment.

Only 21% of voters said they were financially better off than a year ago, 42% said they were worse off and 34% said there had been no change.

The survey showed that voters are pessimistic about the future: only 21% predict they will be better off financially a year from now, 30% said they would be worse off and 44% expected none. change in their financial situation.

The poll found that voters now rank the coronavirus at the bottom of a list of 15 challenges facing the state, far behind issues such as housing affordability, homelessness, crime, fuel prices gasoline and climate change.

Over the past week, the state averaged 2,824 new coronavirus cases, down 29.9% from two weeks ago. The country also appears to be bouncing back from the financial blow of the pandemic: the country’s unemployment rate has fallen to 3.6% from a high of 14.7% in April 2020. In California, the unemployment rate is 5, 4%, compared to 16.1% in May 2020.

But unemployment rates don’t always tell the whole story, said Henry Gascon, director of program and policy development at United Ways of California. His group published a study which concluded that as many as 3.5 million households in California – or 33% – struggle to meet basic needs, including 1.1 million households in Los Angeles County. The problem, he said, is that many workers are employed seasonally in manufacturing or retail industries.

“It’s not how many people are employed; it’s how well people are employed,” Gascon said.

High housing, child care and health care costs are also major factors why so many Californians with full-time jobs are unable to make ends meet, he said.

Rising costs have harmed President Biden politically, even in heavily Democratic California. The poll found that 60% of voters in the state said they disapproved of the job Biden is doing in the face of inflation, which hit 8.5% in March. Increases in gasoline, housing and food prices were the main contributors to inflation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The latest poll did not ask voters to comment on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s job performance, but the Institute of Governmental Studies’ previous poll in February found that 48% of voters in the state approved of the Governor’s overall performance, and 47% disapproved. It was a significant drop in support from a September 2020 survey, when Newsom received a 64% approval rating from voters in the state.

The Institute of Governmental Studies poll polled 8,676 registered voters in California from March 29 to April 5. The survey was administered online in English and Spanish. The estimated sampling error is plus or minus 2 percentage points. The full wording of the questions and the main results are available on the institute’s website.

Edward K. Thompson