Wednesday, September 07, 2005

He May Not Be Back

[[P O L L S]] * If Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger hopes to be re-elected as governor of California when his present partial term ends in 2006, he’s got lots of catching up to do. According to a new Field Poll, 56 percent of Golden Staters say they’re inclined to vote for somebody else the next time around, while only 36 percent would mark their ballots for this bodybuilder-turned-politician. The findings are remarkably similar to those in a Public Policy Institute survey from August, which pegged the guv’s job approval rating at just 34 percent--a whopping 31 percent decline since just last year. By contrast, a comfortable majority of voters (52 percent) support Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein in her bid for a third term.

Contrasts are less dramatic when Californians are asked to measure Schwarzenegger against a couple of likely but less well-known Democratic challengers. In a head-to-head matchup with State Treasurer Phil Angelides (whom Feinstein has endorsed), Angelides wins 43 percent to 40 percent, with 17 percent undecided. In a contest against State Controller Steve Westly, Westly trumps Schwarzenegger 42 percent to 39 percent, with 19 percent undecided.

As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, this poll “illustrates how the Republican governor’s once-diverse base of support--independents, Democrats, and Republicans who gave him a victory in the unprecedented 2003 recall election--has now shrunk almost exclusively to his GOP base.” The paper goes on to note that “Other than those who identify themselves as Republican and conservative, a plurality of voters in all age groups and geographic area, of all races, both male and female, say they are not inclined to vote for Schwarzenegger again ... Two-thirds of self-described moderates and 83 percent of liberals also say they are not inclined to support him again. Sixty-one percent of independent voters also are not inclined to back his re-election.”

Of course, there’s more than a year left for the celebrity chief of state to restore his popularity. But the trends aren’t favorable. He’s been staking his comeback in large part on a trio of initiatives set to appear on California’s expensive November 8 special-election ballot, having to do with probationary periods for teachers, limiting state spending, and changing the way legislative districts are drawn. However, all of those Schwarzenneger-backed initiatives are losing ground as the vote approaches, with only Proposition 74 (which calls for lengthening the probationary period for public school teachers from two to five years) enjoying a plurality of support, 46 percent to 37 percent--but that’s down from a 29 point win margin in June. Meanwhile, the Field Poll found that 57 percent of voters support canceling the special election altogether.

It will be interesting to see whether these facts influence Schwarzenegger’s decision about vetoing a landmark bill to allow same-sex marriage, passed by the state Assembly on Tuesday and already sanctioned by the California Senate. The governor is considered a social liberal, but he’s previously stated his preference that this issue be decided either through a public vote or a court decision. He has also voiced his support for his state’s defense-of-marriage act, passed in 2000, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The Washington Post breaks down Schwarzenegger’s choice this way: “If he vetoes the bill, Schwarzenegger will retain the support of his GOP base, which he needs in a special election he has called for November. But he could also alienate many Democrats who voted for him and whose backing he still covets.”

Judging simply by political affiliations, it might be better for Schwarzenegger to side with the Democrats, who make up 43 percent of registered voters in California, while Republicans comprise only 34 percent.

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