For the first time in seven years, more California voters say they're financially better off compared to the previous year than not, a new Field Poll finds.
Forty-four percent of the state's registered voters are feeling they're doing better now than a year ago, while 28 percent say they're worse off and 28 percent say there's no change, the poll found. But the level of optimism on this and other questions differ dramatically, depending on where the voters live and how much money they make.
Nowhere is the outlook sunnier than in the Bay Area, where those who say California is having good economic times are tied with those who say we're in bad times, at 35 percent each. This probably is the result of who lives and works in the Bay Area: Democrats and more affluent people are far likelier to say we're having good times, according to the poll.
"That says a lot about the Bay Area, people here are just viewing the economy differently than anywhere else in the state," said Mark DiCamillo, the Field Poll's director.
But the rest of the state is also feeling somewhat better, he added.
"We had never seen such a prolonged period of voters saying they're worse off than they were in the prior year -- for six straight years we were getting that," he said. "Now, at long last, more people are giving more optimistic assessments of their finances."
Of course, that all depends on one's own bottom line.
"It may have a lot to do with the fact that people who own property or have significant financial assets & are seeing increases in appreciation of their assets," DiCamillo said. "It may not have as much to do with wage growth."
That describes Zoby Shaikh to a T.
Shaikh, a 49-year-old San Jose voter who has no political party preference, said "the unprecedented rise in home prices" colored his own rosy outlook when he answered the Field Poll's questions.
Shaikh's Willow Glen home has gone up about 14 percent in value in the past year, after several years of his mortgage being under water. "That makes you feel a lot better even though you don't see that money as cash flow, but it certainly makes it a lot easier to refinance" or tap into home equity, said Shaikh, who works for a networking infrastructure products company. Also, he noted, many tech firms are recruiting new workers, and "our 401ks are at an all-time high."
When asked to describe the overall state economy, more than twice as many California voters still describe the state as being in economic bad times (53 percent) as good times (25 percent) -- though that marks an improvement over the past six years, too.
Sixty-four percent of Californians believe jobs are hard to find in their region while only 21 percent say jobs are plentiful, and 53 percent say unemployment is a very serious problem.
Views differ widely by party affiliation. While 68 percent of Republicans say the state is in bad economic times, only 57 percent of independents and 40 percent of Democrats say so.
"Republicans -- who are very, very negative on this -- are viewing it through a partisan prism: They just don't like the way things are going in California and they down-rate the economy," DiCamillo said. "Democrats may be a little more optimistic because Democrats are in control."
Republican candidate for governor Neel Kashkari has built his campaign in large part upon concerns about the economy and unemployment, claiming Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is responsible for the "destruction of the middle class." But Republicans, who this poll indicate would be most receptive to such a message, account for only 28 percent of California's registered voters.
The Field Poll surveyed 1,382 registered voters June 5 through June 22. For subsamples of voters, the poll had a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.