A new California Field Poll released Thursday reveals that in the aftermath of the corruption scandals involving three State Senators, the opinions of voters are turning against the performance of State Legislature incumbents. Democrats currently hold 55 seats and Republicans 25, a greater than two to one margin. But with 41 Democrats and only 16 Republicans up for election this November, Republican challengers now have a unique opportunity to pick up seats.
The Field Poll was taken as news broke on March 26th that Democratic State Senator Leland Yee had been arrested. On that date, the FBI along with dozens of local and state police arrested Yee on charges of foreign gun-trafficking and taking cash bribes from undercover FBI agents.
According to Field,
A comparison of the Poll’s interviews conducted prior to Yee’s arrest to those completed after his arrest shows a public reappraisal of the legislature’s overall performance. During the week immediately prior to Yee’s arrest, 46% of voters approved and 40% disapproved of the legislature’s performance, a finding that showed continuing improvement from previous Field Polls conducted over the past two years.
However, following Yee’s arrest, voter sentiment of the legislature has turned negative. The proportion of voters expressing disapproval jumped six points from 40% to 46%, and now is greater than the proportion approving (43%), which declined three points. Thus, voter opinions of the legislature swung a net nine points in the negative direction in the days following news of Yee’s arrest.
Yee’s arrest followed scandals plaguing two other Democratic State Senators, Ron Calderon and Rod Wright, earlier in the year. In January, a Los Angeles jury found Wright guilty of lying about whether the location of his home was within the district he was running for office in the 2008 election. In February Calderon was indicted on charges that he accepted $100,000 in bribes and gifts. While these two prior cases were well-reported in the press, the extraordinary coverage given Yee’s arrest refocused media attention to the Calderon and Wright scandals.
The Field Poll determined the “cumulative effect of these scandals has damaged the standing of the legislature in the public’s eyes,” especially among non-partisan voters. It is no surprise that Republicans view the legislature negatively by a 65% to 26% margin, and Democrats still approve of the Democratically-controlled legislature by margin of 58% to 29%.
Yet independents’ view of the legislature appears for the first time in years to have moved decisively against incumbents legislators by a 52% to 38% margin.
Over the next seven months, further details of the Democrat corruption scandals in California will leak out. Especially if other Democrat legislators or state office holders are ensnared in the swirling federal corruption probes, Republican candidates could make big election gains in the Golden State.