With its unmatched natural splendor and cultural attractions, California is a beacon that attracts people from around the world who put down roots and call it home.
About 70% of residents said they are happy living here, a new statewide poll shows, crediting the state's diversity, economic opportunities and an enjoyable lifestyle as reasons to stick around.
Yet large swaths of residents are also considering packing up and leaving. Many also believe that the state is headed in the wrong direction, and are anxious about the direction of the economy and their ability to pay their bills.
The findings of a new poll from a consortium of local nonprofits aiming to take stock of the state's mood point to a contradiction playing out across the Golden State: People are pleased by the bounty the country's largest state had to offer and mostly favor its liberal attitudes on social issues, but are also far more concerned about their livelihoods than last year.
These numbers offer some insight into the themes that are likely to emerge in the battles for California's open Senate seat and its competitive congressional districts next year. In the Senate race, Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff along with a slew of other candidates are running to replace 90-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
In addition, there are several competitive congressional districts in California that will play a pivotal role in whether the Democrats retake the house.
"Voters who are anxious about the economy but happy with the cultural climate are a complicated challenge for candidates who have to appeal to those mixed feelings," said Dan Schnur, who teaches political communication at USC and UC Berkeley and helped direct this survey.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has elevated his national profile by contrasting California's values and openness to diversity to the conservative, "anti-woke" waves coursing through Texas, Florida and other Republican-led states, Schnur noted. A recent interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity was the most recent example, in which Newsom boasted about how he was “proud of the fact that working families are treated better in California than they are in conservative states like Texas.”
"These poll results show that the voters are likely to be receptive to a message that draws a state vs. national contrast on issues relating to diversity and race relations. 'This is the California way: I’m going to take your values to Washington,'" Schnur said.
In response to questions about what best describes the state, nearly 70% of Californians polled pointed to the diversity, comforting atmosphere and the abundance of satisfying pursuits it offers. About 60% of residents said it's a state where they feel accepted; that number jumped to nearly two-thirds among Black residents.
But the poll also showed evidence of a counterpoint: Californians were divided evenly when asked whether the country has "overcorrected and gone too far in its attempts to give everyone equal rights." A majority of white Californians agreed with that statement; a large majority of Black Californians disagreed. Latino and Asian poll respondents were closely divided. Latinos, in particular, were divided by age, with a majority of respondents older than 50 saying the country had gone too far, while younger respondents disagreed.
State residents also were notably less positive on economic issues.
Nearly half of those surveyed (46%) said they struggle to save money or pay for unexpected expenses even as they scrape by — a jump of 6 percentage points since April 2022 when residents were asked the same question. About 35% said they live comfortably and 18% said they find it difficult to make ends meet every month.
More than 40% of residents say they're contemplating moving out of California, with nearly half of them saying they're considering that "very seriously." About 61% pointed to the high cost of living here as the reason they'd go. People of color are far more likely to say that the expense of living in California is the reason they might leave. About 71% of residents who are either Black or Asian/Pacific Islander and considering relocating cited the cost of living.
Nearly 30% of those surveyed said they might leave because the state's policies and laws don't align with their political views, a reflection of the polarization of the state and the nation at the moment. Respondents who identified as conservative were much more likely to cite the politics of the state as the reason why they were considering moving.
Self-identified Republicans were three times as likely as Democrats to say that the state's politics were why they wanted to go.
Some chalked this up to the barrage of stories from Fox News and other conservative media outlets that emphasize stories that criticize the state, its governor and his policies on issues ranging from homelessness to school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. In that same interview with Hannity, Newsom described this Fox News coverage as "a doom loop about California.”
"This is the way politics works sometimes," said Schnur — invoking the reaction by some Democrats after Donald Trump bested former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
"Remember all the people who wanted to move to Canada or New Zealand when their favorite presidential candidate wasn't elected," Schnur said.
The dour mood about the state's direction had a partisan timbre as well, according to the poll. Forty-three percent of residents said the state was on the wrong track, an 11 percentage point jump from February 2020. About 28% said it was on the right track. Among people who identified as Republicans, 83% said the state was on the wrong track, while about 20% of Democrats said the same thing.
White people were far more pessimistic about the state than people of color.
The survey also provided some insight into the economic crunch many in the state feel. About 80% of residents said they were dissatisfied with the cost of everyday living expenses. Nearly 70% of residents said they were dissatisfied with the economy in California, and about 55% of those surveyed were dissatisfied with the cost of healthcare and housing costs.
In recent months inflation has been dropping, but that has come after a year of price increases and people's perception of the country's economic outlook turning sour. In California, where housing costs are especially high, that sense of living on the edge is ever present.
About 46% of respondents said they can get by every month but struggle to save or pay for unexpected expenses. This is a nearly 10 point increase since February 2020.
Nearly a fifth of respondents said they find it difficult to make ends meet every month.
Anxiety among middle-class earners drove this uptick in the numbers who report economic stress.
In 2020, 54% of people in households who made between $50,000 and $100,000 said they could live comfortably and save for the future, while 34% said they could at least get by every month. This year, among that same group, only 28% said they can live comfortably and save for the future while 17% said they find it difficult to make ends meet each month — more than double what it was a few years ago.
"Even if folks make the same income as they did even just three years ago, their sense of financial security has fallen dramatically," said Ben Winston, a political consultant for Strategies 360, the firm that designed and conducted the poll.
He noted that a similar trend holds true among people making over $100,000 — nearly half say they don't feel financially comfortable. In 2020, 77% of this class of earners felt comfortable and able to save for the future. That's now dropped 20 percentage points, to 57%.
The California Community poll, conducted from June 6 to June 16, was sponsored by three community organizations — the Los Angeles Urban League, Hispanas Organized for Political Equality and the Center for Asians United for Self-Empowerment — and was developed in consultation with Times reporters and editors. It surveyed 1,354 Californians over the age of 18, online in English or Spanish, with an estimated margin of error of +/-3 percentage points.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.