The numbers lag behind two-thirds of governors nationwide, but mark a dramatic rise from earlier job approval ratings that dipped as low as 19 percent.
“Compared to where he was, it’s a significant comeback,” said pollster Del Ali of Mason-Dixon Political / Media Research, which conducted the poll for The Examiner.
Still, Ali said, voters aren’t giving the moderate Republican and one-time presidential hopeful much credit for the state’s good economic times.
“I think (voters) feel things are good in California in spite of him, not because of him,” Ali said.
The Examiner poll also showed that voters overwhelmingly favor a June ballot measure that would force unions to seek permission before using their members’ dues to contribute to political campaigns.
And, the poll found voters oppose a plan backed by Wilson and legislative Democrats to make it easier to pass school bond issues.
The poll of 831 voters statewide was conducted for The Examiner on Feb. 19-21 by Mason-Dixon Political / Media Research of Columbia, Md. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Unz measure has wide support
Among 444 likely primary voters in the poll, the English-only initiative won broad support, favored by 67 percent to 24 percent, with 9 percent undecided.
The measure, Proposition 227, was put on the ballot by Republican Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz, and has been dubbed the “Unz initiative.”
Republican Party officials, many of whom support the measure, have distanced themselves from the campaign, fearing it will be seen as anti-immigrant and hurt GOP chances to attract Latino voters. But early polls have shown many Latinos and other minorities back the measure.
Belinda Reyes, research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan think tank in San Francisco, said immigrant voters may not differ widely on the issue from their mainstream counterparts.
“I think they’re coming from the same ideas as the mainstream,” Reyes said. “They want their children to do better and recognize that learning English is part of the whole process of assimilation in the United States.”
Many minority voters are disappointed about the quality of education in their districts, Reyes said, and they may use the bilingual education initiative to show their dismay.
Opponents of the measure liken it to Proposition 187, the 1994 measure that sought to cut government benefits and education to illegal immigrants.
The opponents say The Examiner’s poll reveals that most voters know little about the initiative.
“Once the voters look at the details of the proposition, there will be a definite drop in support,” said Kelly Hayes-Raitt, the “No on Unz” campaign’s spokeswoman.
Will Wilson’s numbers help?
Ken Khachigian, longtime Republican strategist who ran Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign in California, said Wilson’s strong favorable rating could be a boost as he pushes his ambitious last-year agenda.
Khachigian said the poll showed the governor will “have a lot of credibility when he goes to the public with efforts to develop support for his programs, and as he endorses legislative policies and initiative campaigns.”
Assemblywoman Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, who chairs the influential Appropriations Committee, said Wilson’s higher approval marks will mean little in Sacramento, or at the ballot box.
“People are very independent and make decisions on a case-by-case basis,” Migden said. “I don’t think there is any correlation between personal popularity and success in ballot initiatives.”
One of the issues in which Wilson seems in line with the voters is Proposition 226, the union dues measure.
The measure was favored 64 percent to 21 percent, with 15 percent undecided, of the 444 poll respondents who said they were likely to vote in the June primary.
The margin of error is plus or minus about 5 percentage points for the smaller sampling of likely primary voters.
Critics say Prop. 226 is aimed at diluting the political strength of unions, a longtime base of support for Democratic candidates. Initiative backers, including Wilson, argue that spending union members’ dues on politics without workers’ permission is undemocratic.
A similar measure passed by a wide margin in Washington state in 1992, and efforts are under way to place initiatives on the November ballot in Nevada, Arizona, Florida and North Dakota.
“Every poll we’ve seen has shown that union members support this initiative in ratios as high as 4 to 1,” said Mark Bucher, co-chair of the campaign and one of the authors of the initiative.
California voters expressed divided opinions on another issue that may reach the June 2 ballot.
Wilson and Democrats in the Legislature want to propose a ballot measure that would allow local school districts to pass bonds for new construction with a simple majority of the vote rather than the current two-thirds majority.
The Examiner poll found 45 percent of those surveyed oppose the idea, 38 percent support it, and 17 percent are undecided.