Voice of the People: Economic Security Top of Mind for Voters

Increasing cost of living and fear of falling further behind add up to California voters apprehensive about their future. The seventh annual CalChamber poll, The People’s Voice, 2021, found that voters remain focused on economic security, personal safety, and bread-and-butter issues.

More than eight of 10 voters report feeling the effects of inflation, with more than a third stating they are buying less because prices are higher. These cost pressures color voter attitudes about general well-being, prospects for the future, and state policies.

Since 2015, more than eight out of 10 Californians have regularly reported that “earning enough income to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle is becoming almost impossible in my part of California.” In 2021, 85% of Californians agreed with that statement—as did more than nine of 10 voters in the Bay Area.

Voters also report that the American Dream is fading for them. Asked about the American Dream—that if you work hard you’ll get ahead—for the first time a majority of voters responded that it while it once held true, it does not anymore, compared with 37% who believe it still holds true. This ratio has flipped in just three years, when a plurality of Californians believed the American Dream still held true.

This anxiety feeds on reports of the California Exodus, and in turn stokes that very impulse.

News and social media have reported anecdotes of high-profile companies leaving the state, as well as the historic slowdown in California’s population growth, fueled in large part by domestic migration of middle- and working-class Californians to opportunities in other states.

Voters are well acquainted with this trend.

Asked if they are aware of “any major employers or businesses leaving your community in recent years to relocate to another state,” nearly half of voters statewide, including 59% of voters in the Bay Area, answered “yes.”

Some 44% of voters statewide reported that in the past year they knew someone personally who moved out of California because of job loss or cost of living. In the Inland Empire and Central Valley, 58% of voters said they knew someone personally who moved for these reasons.

About a quarter of voters in Southern California and the Central Valley reported knowing someone personally who lost their job because their employer left the community.

Californians do not perceive the state to be in a recession. A strong majority (59%) say “a lot” or “some” new jobs are being created in their part of California. On the other hand, of the voters who report job creation, a majority (53%) say those jobs “tend to be dead ends and do not lead to the middle class,” as opposed to the 47% who say those jobs “lead to higher pay and lead to the middle class living.” The pessimism about the kinds of jobs created is new, and is especially reflected among women, older voters and in the Central Valley and Inland Empire.

Continuing a troubling trend, among voters with kids living at home, 62% agree with the statement that “my children would have a better future if they left California.” Since 2015, a growing proportion of parents have agreed with this sentiment.

The CalChamber poll also closely examined numerous policy issues of interest to voters and employers. We’ll take a deep dive into those issues in subsequent articles.

The CalChamber poll was conducted by Core Decision Analytics and Pierrepont Consulting and Analytics with online interviews from October 9–12, 2021 with 1,003 online interviews of California 2022 general election voters. The margin of error for this study is +/- 3.09% at the 95% confidence level and larger for subgroups. This was the seventh year CalChamber has published a voter survey.

Contact: Loren Kaye

Loren Kaye
Loren Kaye was appointed president of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education in January 2006. He has devoted his career to developing, analyzing and implementing public policy issues in California, with a special emphasis on improving the state's business and economic climate. He also was a gubernatorial appointee to the state's Little Hoover Commission, charged with evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness of state agencies and programs. Kaye served in senior policy positions for Governors Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian, including Cabinet Secretary to the Governor and Undersecretary of the California Trade and Commerce Agency. See full bio.