Crime and homelessness are the two issues on which California Democrats are most vulnerable heading into the 2022 elections, according to a Tuesday poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies and the Los Angeles Times. Underscoring the political risk: a drumbeat of recent headlines on brutal crimes and attacks allegedly committed by homeless individuals.
The survey’s findings were especially grim for Gov. Gavin Newsom: 48% of registered voters said they approve of his overall performance as governor, while 47% disapprove. That’s a marked increase in criticism from September 2021, when 50% approved of the governor and 42% disapproved — and Newsom overwhelmingly defeated an attempt to recall him from office.
The Tuesday survey found that disapproval of Newsom’s job performance is rising among key voter blocs, including Democrats, strong liberals, moderates, Los Angeles County voters, Latinos and Asian Americans.
Voters also gave Newsom low marks for handling eight out of ten major issues facing the state, with 66% rating his response to homelessness as “poor” or “very poor” and 51% saying the same about his approach to crime and public safety.
Ultimately, though, the governor’s declining approval rate will likely have a negligible impact on his reelection prospects. With the June primary less than four months away, Newsom’s most serious challenger so far is GOP state Sen. Brian Dahle of Bieber, who acknowledged that running against an incumbent with a $25 million campaign war chest is like “David versus Goliath.”
But voters’ clear dissatisfaction with the status quo could pose challenges for Democrats running in competitive, newly redrawn districts — and sway the outcome of high-profile races, such as for mayor of Los Angeles. According to the UC Berkeley survey:
- 78% of registered voters said crime has increased over the past year, and 65% said it’s worsened in their local areas.
- 59% said they would support amending Prop. 47, a 2014 ballot measure that reclassified some theft and drug felonies as misdemeanors.
- 54% believe California is on the wrong track, a 9-point increase from May 2021.
On Tuesday, Democratic Assemblymember Rudy Salas of Bakersfield — who’s running for a U.S. House of Representatives seat currently held by a Republican — unveiled a proposal to funnel $50 million into hiring police officers who agree to live and work in underserved communities with high rates of violent crime. Salas in January also introduced a bill to reverse a key aspect of Prop. 47.
Emily Hoeven is a reporter with CalMatters.