Poll: Voters back gas tax repeal, have mixed feelings about high-speed rail before knowing cost

May 25, 2018

USC Dornsife and LA TimesThe latest USC Dornsife/LA Times poll of Californians reveals how they feel about hot-button election issues, including a proposal to expand the property tax benefits of Prop. 13. 

Contact: Jim Key, (213) 821-2992 or jameskey@usc.edu or Eddie North-Hager, (213) 740-9335 or edwardnh@usc.edu

The 2017 law to increase the gas tax and vehicle registration fee is more popular among Californians than President Donald Trump, but about half of registered voters would repeal it if given the chance, according to the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

Trump’s disapproval rating in the poll was 69 percent.

“With only 38 percent support from voters, the gas tax would almost certainly be dead if a measure to repeal it qualifies,” said Bob Shrum, director of the USC Dornsife College’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. “The strongest base of supporters for the tax are Democrats, and not even a majority of them would vote to keep it.”

Gasoline pumpsForty-nine percent of Democrats support the gasoline tax law that last year added 12 cents per-gallon at the pump to fund road and bridge repairs, while 40 percent would repeal it. Only 12 percent of Republicans want to keep it. Nine percent say they haven’t heard enough to say how they’d vote.

Proponents of the repeal say they’ve collected more than enough signatures to qualify the proposed measure for a vote in the November 2018 general election.

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll of 835 adult residents of California was conducted online April 18 – May 18 in English and Spanish. It included 691 registered voters who are members of the Center for Economic and Social Research’s Understanding America Study, a probability-based internet panel. The overall margin of sampling error is +/- 4 percentage points for registered voters.

High-speed rail? Opinions are mixed until voters know cost

High speed railNearly half of registered voters said they support the high-speed rail project connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco, a signature initiative of Gov. Jerry Brown, while 44 percent opposed it. But after they were told the project costs could reach $77 billion—twice the original estimate—before it’s finished in 2033, nearly half the voters said they would stop it, while about one-third would continue construction. A significant number— 20 percent —said they don’t know.

“Would voters be more supportive if they knew that some of the $77 billion was from private sources and not tax dollars? I don’t know,” said Shrum. “Some of the opposition may also be related to the long time horizon to complete it.”

Democrats, even after learning of the increased cost to finish it, are nearly evenly split over continuing or stopping construction of the rail, 41 to 38 percent. About two-thirds of GOP voters would stop it.

[Image rendering by California High-Speed Rail Authority]

Support for expanding benefits of Prop. 13

Home and moneyOver the years, activists and some politicians have talked about amending Prop. 13, California’s landmark 1978 ballot measure that reduced state property taxes and limited the rate of increase. Just as this poll ended, a measure qualified for the November 2020 ballot that would dramatically expand the tax benefits for longtime homeowners.

Another proposal not on the ballot but supported by some Democratic activists and leaders would amend Prop. 13 to exclude commercial and big business properties from Prop. 13, taxing them based on their actual market value. More than half of registered voters, 54 percent, would support this change and 20% would oppose it.

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View the results

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll is a partnership of the Los Angeles Times and two institutions of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences: The Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics and the Center for Economic and Social Research.

The survey, results and methodology are available at: https://dornsife.usc.edu/unruh/polls  For more information about the Center for Economic and Social Research Understanding America Study internet panel, visit https://uasdata.usc.edu