California Counts

A collaboration between Capital Public Radio, KQED, KPCC and KPBS to cover the 2016 elections in California.

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Californians Worry About Poverty, Income Inequality, Poll Finds

Brittany Hosea-Small / KQED

A tent encampment in the Mission District of San Francisco on June 23, 2016.

Brittany Hosea-Small / KQED

Steven Cuevas | KQED

A majority of Californians believe poverty is a serious problem, but they disagree over what to do about it. That’s according to a survey conducted for our California Counts public radio collaboration.

The CALSPEAKS survey asked hundreds of voters and some nonvoters across California how they feel about a range of economic issues, from home ownership and job security to wage disparity and upward mobility.

“More feel scared than say that they feel hopeful,” said Sacramento State University political scientist David Barker, who directed the CALSPEAKS survey. The poll asked Californians to weigh in on a laundry list of issues relating to the November election.

The survey found that seven out of 10 respondents believe the number of people living in poverty is a “major” problem. There was wide agreement, regardless of race, political affiliation, income level or age. Two-thirds of Californians also believe income inequality is a major problem. (The cost of health care was another top concern, considered a problem by 70 percent of respondents.)

As to solutions, one-third of those polled “strongly favor” the state’s recent $15/hour minimum wage bump approved by the state Legislature in March. Another 26 percent “somewhat” favor the pay increase.

“You could simultaneously view poverty as a problem but not want to raise the minimum wage,” said Barker. “The more conservative (people) would say there needs to be less regulation to free up the markets so more people can get hired.”

The hike in the state minimum wage came nearly a year after the Los Angeles City Council and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed $15/hour minimum wages of their own.

Robert Nothoff, of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy,  said those efforts were driven in large part by the L.A. region’s large pool of low-wage immigrant workers.

“It was really the immigrant community pushing, telling us what it takes to make ends meet and leading the charge to raise the bar for all workers across the state,” said Nothoff.

Respondents to the CALSPEAKS survey were split over the broader question of whether immigrants (from Asia and Latin America specifically) help or hurt the state’s economy.

The poll found that 38 percent believe immigrants weaken the economy “a little” to “a lot,” while 47 percent believe immigrants strengthen the economy “a little” or “a lot.”

When it comes to illegal immigration specifically, 45 percent of respondents say it’s a “major” problem. Another 29 percent view it as a “minor problem,” while 23 percent think it’s little to no problem at all.

California Counts, a statewide public media election collaborative, contracted with the CALSPEAKS Opinion Research Center at the Institute for Social Research, Sacramento State University, to conduct an extensive survey of Californians' electoral and public policy attitudes. 

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include additional information regarding the methodology of the survey.

The Institute for Social Research at Sacramento State fielded the survey online and through the mail from Aug. 15 to 24, 2016, using the CALSPEAKS survey panel. It yielded 915 completed surveys and 44 partially completed surveys. CALSPEAKS obtains a representative sample of Californians, stratified by the five major regions in the state. For information on the methodology, please visit: For questions about the November election, (the U.S. Senate race and propositions 57, 63 and 64), results reflect registered voters only. The margin of error for any individual survey question is equal to or less than +/- four percentage points, for the overall sample. However, the margins of error are larger if focusing on smaller sub-groups, especially racial or ethnic sub-groups. These are equal or less than +/- 16 percentage points for African Americans, and 10 percentage points for Latinos or those of “other races/ethnicities” (including Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and those of mixed race/ethnicity). The numbers, however, have been weighted to reflect California’s population and are valid for comparisons across the sub-groups.