For the first time in six years, a majority of Californians think their state is headed in the right direction, a sentiment that has produced a record-high approval rating for the performance of Gov. Jerry Brown during his current tenure in office.
Those are among the findings of a survey released Wednesday night by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. The survey also found that 65 percent of Californians support a national ban on the sale of assault weapons.
The telephone poll of 1,704 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent. It was conducted Jan. 15-22, the week after Brown released a proposed state budget that projects the elimination of the chronic funding shortfalls that have plagued state government for the past several years.
That and other developments have placed Californians in an optimistic frame of mind. Fifty-one percent say the state is moving in the right direction, and 49 percent expect good economic times in the year ahead. Both figures are the highest recorded in the annual January survey since the pre-recession year of 2007.
The findings represent a marked turnaround from three years ago, when 74 percent of Californians thought their state was headed in the wrong direction.
"People are feeling pretty good about where things stand in California right now," pollster Mark Baldassare said. "There is an improving economy and a state government fiscal situation that they haven't seen for several years. They give the governor credit for the current situation."
The poll found broad public support, even among Republicans, for Brown's budget plan. When read a brief description of Brown's proposal to increase spending on education, pay down debt and build a small reserve, 69 percent of respondents said they generally supported that approach, including 51 percent of Republicans.
Additionally, three out of four Californians supported Brown's proposal to direct much of the increase in school funding to districts with high concentrations of low-income students and English learners.
Sentiment was more mixed on the governor's plan to use $4.2 billion to pay down debts and to build a $1 billion reserve. While 55 percent supported that approach, 38 percent said they would prefer to spend that money to restore social service programs that have been cut in recent years.
Brown's approval rating was 51 percent, the highest since he took office in January 2011, when it stood at 41 percent. Approval of the Legislature's job performance rose to 41 percent, the highest it has been since December 2007.
Baldassare said the approval rating may help Brown as he tries to tackle issues that might meet some resistance in the Legislature, such as modifying the California Environmental Quality Act or moving forward with a plan to build two tunnels to move water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
"When you're in a situation where you have a majority of Californians supporting you, your ideas are more favorably received by the Legislature," he said.
The survey also asked Californians their opinions on high-profile issues such as an assault weapons ban, the role of immigrants in society, the launch of the federal health care overhaul and same-sex marriage.
Not surprisingly, in a state where President Barack Obama carried 60 percent of voters to 37 percent for Republican Mitt Romney in November, responses reflected positions most typically held by Democrats.
Sixty-five percent said they support a federal ban on assault-style weapons like that proposed by Obama, and 65 percent think the government is not doing enough to regulate guns. Support for further gun regulation jumped from 53 percent in March, before the school shootings in Newtown, Conn.
Among Californians who have a gun in their homes, however, opinion was divided on the federal assault weapons ban, with 47 percent in support and 50 percent opposed.
On immigration, 63 percent said immigrants are a benefit, rather than a burden, to California, and 76 percent think that illegal immigrants already living here should get an opportunity to obtain citizenship -- a key component of plans announced this week by both Obama and a bipartisan group of U.S. senators.
Support for the federal Affordable Care Act rose to 55 percent, the highest since the law's enactment in 2010 and up 8 percentage points since last March. On that issue, there is a sharp partisan divide: The law is supported by 76 percent of Democrats and opposed by 78 percent of Republicans.
Fifty-three percent support same-sex marriage, a number substantially unchanged from early last year.
At the federal level, approval of Obama's performance stands at 65 percent among Californians, its highest level since July 2009. ___
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