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Newsom’s Big Move On Homelessness May Be Just In Political Time, New Poll Suggests

Anne Wernikoff/CALmatters
A tent encampment off of Grand Avenue in Oakland. Homelessness has soared in California, and a new poll shows voters now list it as their top concern.

Gov. Gavin Newsom kicked off 2020 by pledging to plow an extra $1.4 billion into homeless services, proposing a state constitutional amendment to make it easier to sue cities who fail to provide shelter for their unhoused populations, and embarking on a statewide “homelessness tour” to visit shelters and other providers.

Homelessness, he said last week as he unveiled his proposed budget last week, is “the issue that defines our times.”

According to a poll released Wednesday, more Californians than ever agree.

Twenty percent of Californians surveyed by the Public Policy Institute of California cited homelessness as the most important issue for the governor and Legislature to work on this year.

That’s a record, said the institute’s president, Mark Baldassare: “It’s never, ever been in the double digits.”

Another 10% of Californians named “housing costs (and) availability.”

When the institute asked the same question last year, only 6% of respondents named homelessness at the state’s top policy priority.

And when the new poll focused in on likely voters, the results were even more emphatic: 23% named homelessness their chief concern, with another 11% citing housing.

The survey also suggested that Newsom’s approval among likely voters may be inching up. It showed presidential candidate Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders surging with California’s Democratic electorate (particularly young voters), making him the nominal frontrunner — but adjusting for the poll’s margin of error, he’s in a three-way tie with former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. And the poll found that California Republicans largely support President Trump, but tend to part ways with him on immigration.

The survey was conducted Jan. 3 to 12 — mostly before the state’s Democratic governor announced his new plans on homelessness, although after President Trump has repeatedly lambasted California for allowing the problem to worsen.

“I don’t think its something that’s coming up because they’re reading about it or because the president has tweeted about,” said Baldassare. “It’s on people’s minds because they’re seeing it in their daily lives.”

Homelessness is not a new problem in California, but data collected by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development suggests it has grown more acute in recent years. At last count, more than 150,000 Californians are now living in their cars, in shelters or on the sidewalks and below freeway underpasses — more than at any time since at least 2007.

Other poll findings:

  • Good news for (this year’s) Prop. 13: Among respondents, 53% said that they would vote for a ballot measure authorizing the state to borrow $15 billion to expand and revamp school and university facilities earn. That’s not a huge buffer of support for backers of Prop. 13 (mostly building trade groups and teachers unions). But although support for ballot measures tends to decline as Election Day approaches, that generally isn’t the case for bonds.
  • Newsom back on top (narrowly): A slim majority (51%) of Californians surveyed approve of Gov. Newson, as do a plurality of likely voters (with 49% approving and 42% disapproving). That’s good news for the governor: In the last two Public Policy Institute surveys, Newsom was underwater, with disapproval exceeding his approval.
  • The Bernie surge is real: Consistent with other public polls, this one validates news of a bump in Sanders’ support across California. He held the support of 27% of likely voters surveyed — an increase of 10 percentage points since November. Coming in just behind Sanders were Biden (24%) and Warren (23%). Today’s poll also reaffirmed that Sanders’ base skews young. Of voters between 18 and 45 years old, 45% are backing Bernie and 39% believe he is the candidate most likely to beat Trump.
  • California Republicans are different: President Trump remains popular with the vast majority of California Republican likely voters. But the same can’t be said of some of his signature policies. Sixty-two percent of GOP respondents said they support protecting undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children from deportation. And 60% say they generally agree that undocumented immigrants of all kinds should be allowed to remain in the country. Another 18% oppose the president’s border wall proposal. And with an impeachment trial looming, 11% believe that the U.S. Senate should remove Trump from office.

Learn the facts about homelessness in California via our in-depth explainer.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.