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Center For California Studies. Civic Engagement and Local Fiscal Attitudes: 2013 Survey of Californians David Barker, Director, Institute for Social Research Kim Nalder, Director, Project for an Informed Electorate. Additional Survey Team Members.

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center for california studies
Center For California Studies

Civic Engagement and Local Fiscal Attitudes: 2013 Survey of CaliforniansDavid Barker, Director, Institute for Social ResearchKim Nalder, Director, Project for an Informed Electorate

additional survey team members
Additional Survey Team Members

Michael SmallResearch Analyst, Institute for Social ResearchEdward LascherDean, Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary StudiesProfessor, Department of Public Policy and AdministrationKelly NelsonGraduate Research AssistantInstitute for Social ResearchTed RyanGraduate Research AssistantInstitute for Social Research

research questions

Research Questions

At the municipal level, do Californians tend to prioritize balanced budgets, low taxes, or public services?

What specific municipal services do Californians prioritize over others?

How knowledgeable and sophisticated is the average Californian when it comes to municipal budgets (e.g. where the money goes)?

How engaged and participatory are Californians in local politics and civic affairs?

How do civic knowledge and engagement – individually and in conjunction – influence fiscal attitudes/priorities?



  • Random Digit Dialing Phone Survey (30% cell);
  • April 4th-May 8th, 2013;
  • 938 interviews of California city/town dwellers, from 30 cities/towns;
  • Randomized counties from four regions (southern-coastal, northern -coastal, southern-inland, northern-inland);
  • Randomized cities and towns for inclusion from within each county -- weighting according to size and population patterns;
  • Excluded residents of non-incorporated areas. 
methodology continued

Methodology, Continued

  • Obtained public information regarding fiscal solvency of each city/town:

(a) 2012 expenditures-revenues

(b) overall debt 



Age, Residence, Education, and Income

Our average respondent:

  • is 50 years old
  • has lived in his/her town for 20 years
  • has “some college” experience
  • earns $49,000 per year


Gender, Race, Ethnicity

  • 56% of sample respondents are women
  • 53% are non-Hispanic Whites
  • 30% are Hispanic
  • 4% are African American
  • 5% are Asian American
  • 2% are Native American
  • 7% are Multi-Racial


Party ID (self report)

  • Democrats 45%
  • Republicans 26%
  • Independents 29%


  • Democrats and Democratic “Leaners” 48%
  • Republicans and Republican “Leaners” 33%
  • “Pure” Independents 19%
summary balanced budget vs low taxes investment in services

Summary:Balanced Budget vs. Low Taxes /Investment in Services

  • Surprisingly few differences by party identification, attentiveness to local news, or gender.
  • 35% prioritize balancing the budget over either other priority
  • 35% prefer either option (keeping taxes low OR maintaining services) over balancing the budget.
  • 30% prefer budgetary balance to one option but not the other.
on what do people want to spend spending on economic development like business subsidies

On What Do People Want to Spend?Spending on Economic Development, Like Business Subsidies

fiscal attitudes and priorities local spending

Fiscal Attitudes and Priorities: Local Spending

When summing the five spending priority items:

  • 58% want to increase spending, on balance.
  • 24% want to cut spending, on balance.


  • 23% illogically want a tax cut and more spending.
  • 35% pick the liberal option – no tax cut and increased services.
  • 21% want no change.
  • 21% want the conservative option of a tax cut and no spending increase.
municipal civic engagement

Municipal Civic Engagement

  • 67% reported voting in the last election (likely inflated due to social desirability bias).
  • 20% reported having contacted a local public official either by letter, phone, or e-mail in the last year.
municipal civic attitudes

Municipal Civic Attitudes

  • Approval of Public Officials
  • Trust in Local Public Officials
  • Perceived Competence of Local Officials
  • Efficacy (the sense that citizens can influence outcomes)


  • 62% claim to have followed local public affairs in the news on at least 5 days “last week.
  • 52% claim to have done do on 6 or more days.
  • 48% claim to have followed local news every day last week.
  • Only 11% admit to not following local news at all last week.

--- We suspect that these numbers are inflated.

fiscal knowledge

Fiscal Knowledge

We asked five questions to gauge fiscal political knowledge:

  • Is your city budget in surplus, deficit, or balance?
  • What is your city’s sales tax rate, roughly?
  • Was the state budget last year in surplus, deficit, or balance?
  • Has this year’s state budget improved, stayed the same, or gotten worse?
  • A spending jurisdiction question with only one right answer.

We then constructed an index for local knowledge (3 questions) and overall fiscal knowledge (all 5 questions).

fiscal knowledge1

Fiscal Knowledge

  • 25% correctly identified their city/town budget situation.
  • 65% were within a few points of getting the sales tax question correct (defined as between 7% and 10%).
  • 57% knew that the state’s budget was in deficit last year.
  • Only 17% knew that the state’s budget situation has improved in 2013.
patterns civic fiscal knowledge

Patterns: Civic Fiscal Knowledge

  • More Knowledge More Engagement
  • More Knowledge/More Engagement Sm.Pref. Less Spend
  • More Knowledge Prefer Higher Taxes
  • More Knowledge City/Town in Deficit
  • When in Deficit, Knowledge/Engagement Fiscal Conservatism
    • Weaker when Informed but not Engaged
    • Non-existent when Engaged but not Informed
  • Knowledge Logical Consistency Across Questions, especially when in Deficit
other patterns

Other Patterns

  • Engagement Less Logical Attitudes

(Among Those Living in Deficit)

  • When Deficit, Fiscal Conserv. Mayor/Council Disapproval.