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California's Tides of Opinion: Strong Backing for Immigration Reform and Gun Control, Skepticism About More Taxes

03/25/2013 06:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2013

Two new polls contain fascinating information about major trends of thought among California voters. The most dramatic development is a sharp reversal of opinion on illegal immigrants, shown in the new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

"When the state's residents understand the benefits that newcomers bring," declared poll director Dan Schnur in a Monday conference call, "the state flourishes. When they do not, we tend to run into problems."

The new USC/Los Angeles Times poll indicates strong support from California voters for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

And in a further reverse from the mindset of the old Prop 187 era of the early to mid-1990s, a majority of voters say illegal immigrants are a benefit to the state's economy.

A whopping 72 percent of voters in the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll said they are for comprehensive reform of the immigration system leading to a path to citizenship for those already here. Just 21 percent say no. But an open border policy is not favored, as voters want greater border security as well.

Support among Republicans for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants is still a minority position, but is up to 45 percent.

As recently as the 2010 California gubernatorial primary, Republicans Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner engaged in a bitter contest to see who could be seen as the fiercest in cracking down on illegal immigration. It certainly wasn't anything I discouraged; far from it, as it made for a great show, among other things.

Incidentally, the most intriguing thing about the quote from poll director Schnur that you see above is that he was press secretary to then Governor Pete Wilson back in the '90s. Wilson rode the draconian crackdown on illegal immigrants in 1994's Prop 187 to victory over Democrat state Treasurer Kathleen Brown, sister of Governor Jerry Brown.

But Brown's strong stand against Prop 187 -- she made her opposition to it the centerpiece closing out her campaign, to the dismay of quite a few Democrats -- positioned the Democrats on the right side for the future of California politics.

Prop 187 was later thrown out by the courts, and Wilson's successors, from Democrat Gray Davis to Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger to Democrat Jerry Brown, all disavowed its methods.

The USC/LA Times poll also shows strong support for a wide array of gun control measures. Some 62 percent favor a nationwide assault weapons ban, with only 33 percent opposed. This is a measure, authored by Senator Dianne Feinstein that has already died in the U.S. Senate, being left out of the Democratic gun control package after barely clearing the Judiciary Committee. Notably, only a quarter of California households own guns, while the number for the country as a whole is 34%.

The latest Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll, in addition to showing a steady support level for high-speed rail and declined support for a big water bond, also shows that California voters are by no means anxious to grant still more taxes in the wake of the historic passage of Prop 30.

Expanding the sales tax to encompass services -- a favored trope of the professional reform class, which in the past would pair it with a bid to lower taxes for the rich and big corporations -- is an idea which is trounced in the poll.

Executing a new oil severance tax is more popular, but does little better than a split decision. And expanding the ability of local governments to enact new taxes receives a tepid response.

It seems that Californians want the newly empowered Democrats to demonstrate they can govern with some restraint and frugality before opening up anybody's checkbook yet again.

But that PPIC poll also contains very bad news for the Republican Party.

It is viewed very negatively by most voters, and is on the wrong side of the great bulk of the issues as well. Not surprisingly.

The PPIC poll also shows a steady support level for high-speed rail and declined support for a big water bond.

Most California voters are for a big high-speed rail project. But at a lower level of spending than what was presented in the poll.

At the higher figure, the support level of 43 percent is the same as it was last year.

Meanwhile, 59 percent say high-speed rail is an important priority for the state.

The steady 43 percent number in the current austere economic environment is interesting but not all that pertinent, since it's not on the ballot. Frankly, the PR effort for high-speed rail has been atrocious all along, which certainly has something to do with the numbers, not that Brown seems all that concerned.

But the decline in support for the $11 billion water bond enacted under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who wrestled the first big water program in decades through the legislature only to have it delayed and delayed again to the 2014 ballot, is pertinent.

Last year it garnered a bare majority 51 percent. Now it is at 42 percent.

Since that, unlike high-speed rail, faces a vote, adjustments have to be made.

Voters also continue to favor action on greenhouse gases, by a wide margin, but want streamlining of environmental regulations to aid in economic growth.

Notwithstanding high-speed rail's decidedly mixed standing in polling, the California High-Speed Rail Authority board of directors authorized the issuance of $8.6 billion in bonds. Only $3 billion will be used to start with, combined with an equivalent amount of federal funding, for the Phase I Central Valley spine of the project.

The board also approved plans to integrate the bullet train project with increasingly electrified local rail in the San Francisco Bay Area.

There are still lawsuits against the project, of course. They are backed, seemingly oddly, by a long ago supporter of the project, former state Senator Quentin Kopp, who ran a few times for mayor of San Francisco a few decades ago. Kopp is what can be described as a contrary character.

Not many expect the lawsuits to have much effect. The project, championed by Jerry Brown, as it was before him by Schwarzenegger and by Gray Davis -- who shepherded the bond funding through the legislature -- is on course. Or, perhaps better put, on track.

As are major changes in opinion on major social issues, with immigration following along the path of growing support for same-sex marriage.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.

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