Poll: Arnold's Popularity Plunges

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks on the state's stalled budget at a fire station in the Sherman Oaks district of Los Angeles Saturday, July 3, 2004.
For the first time since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took office, less than half of California's likely voters approve of the way he is doing his job, according to a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California.

The findings released Thursday reflect a negative trend that began in January when the governor announced plans for a special election this year and proposed a series of controversial ballot measures.

The poll found voters are split over two of Schwarzenegger's three proposed initiatives — a majority support his plan to make it harder for public school teachers to gain tenure but a similar number oppose his proposed restrictions on the state budget.

Schwarzenegger is on the down side of a major statewide poll for the first time: 47 percent of likely voters surveyed by the Public Policy Institute disapprove of his job performance, while 45 percent approve, and 8 percent are undecided. In January, the poll found 60 percent approval for the governor and 33 percent disapproval.

While the numbers indicate growing disenchantment with Schwarzenegger, the poll's author said a lot could change in the coming weeks. Two big events could give Schwarzenegger a chance to clarify his goals for the state — the release of his revised budget plan expected in mid-May and his pending decision on whether or not to hold the November special election.

"We're seeing now several months of growing doubts about the governor's leadership," said poll director Mark Baldassare. "It's been a period in which the governor has not been able to get his message out as effectively as some of his opponents."

After enjoying enormous popularity during most of his first year in office, Schwarzenegger's standing has slipped since he proposed the special election, which is opposed by Democrats and their primary supporters in the labor movement.

Public employees unions — including nurses, firefighters and police groups — have come out strongly against his spending cap; while the state's powerful teacher's union is equally opposed to the tenure plan. The governor's third proposal, which would give the authority for drawing legislative districts to retired judges, is attracting opposition from the labor groups as well as the state's majority party, the Democrats.