The USF Survey: What Bay Area Residents are Thinking

In June, the Leo T. McCarthy Center at the University of San Francisco conducted a survey to gauge the opinions of Bay Area residents on the economy, the local/state/federal governments, and policies. The center interviewed nearly 1,200 respondents of various ages, ethnicities, and socio-economic standings from 8 Bay Area counties, including San Francisco.

And what did Bay Area residents say? Well, they are mostly concerned with the state of the economy, with roughly 40% believing the economy is getting “somewhat” or “much” better. Of the San Francisco respondents, 47% believe the local economy is doing “just okay,” while 19% think “pretty poorly,” and 52% indicate, “things are generally going in the right direction”. When asked what local governments could do to stimulate the local economy, Bay Area residents prefer improving education rather than reducing business taxes and providing subsidies to hire people, and 67% oppose redevelopment policies that involve government acquisition of land to be resold to private developers.

Bay Area folks also seem to trust their local governments more than the state and federal government, with 39% believing that elected officials in City governments “do the right thing” most of the time, compared to 19% of state politicians. Generally, respondents disapprove of the job all governments are doing, with the Federal government polling at 12%, the State at 6%, County at 15%, and local government at 22% approval ratings. Maybe the ratings are dismal because Bay Area residents think governments are not run by very bright people: 53% of the people surveyed believe the people running the federal government don’t know what they are doing, and 36% said the same of the State government. On the bright side, 52% think smart people run their city government.

The survey also tested Bay Area respondent’s confidence in city workers, community groups and organizations. Who do Bay Area folks love and trust? Police officers and firefighters (as one group), and teachers, earn 68% and 61% positive ratings respectively. Confidence in religious groups and the Mayor both polled at 31%, and public employee unions at 21%. At the bottom of the trust barrel: County Supervisors (18%), and political parties (10%). The survey notes that “When it comes to considering how to mobilize localities on behalf of economic development, the Bay Area residents seem to want local solutions from people they trust to help stimulate the economy, without giving up too much of their own power in the process.” The published findings do not include a break down by county.

Perhaps the most interesting questions dealt with current public policies. Pension reform is a hot button topic because of budget short falls, yet pension reform received mixed reviews by the survey respondents. 40% answered that the pension benefits of government workers in California were “about right” and 30% of respondents think such benefits are “too generous”, indicating that there is no clear preference for “demolishing the current system of benefits or pensions in the Bay Area.” Despite the indifference, people surveyed favored raising the age to begin receiving pension benefits (55% approved), and combining lower pension benefits with a 401k-style plan (54% approved) as ways to alleviate the pension burdens on government budgets rather than completely getting rid of the current system (only 44% of respondents approved of such a move).

Lastly, survey respondents were polled on their sentiments about immigration—another hot button issue during tough economic times. Surveyors asked if immigrants were a “benefit to California because of their hard work and job skills” or a burden because they use public services. Surprisingly, or not, Bay Area folks think positively of immigrants, with 65% indicating they area benefit, and 24% believing immigrants are a public service burden. Of course the respondent’s sentiments depended on who was asked, following political party lines.

For the most part the survey results fall in line with what is expected of the Bay Area: it’s full of left wingers. Let’s see if opinions change next year. Are you surprised with the results?

View the complete survey results here. For more information, contact the USF McCarthy Center at (415) 422-6163.

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