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Most Valley voters don’t approve of their legislators, survey finds
legislator survey
A voter exits a polling station in Merced County, Calif. during the March 5th Primary.

A majority of voters living in California’s Central Valley don’t approve of the job elected officials are doing, according to a recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California.

At the federal level, 35% of Valley voters approve of President Joe Biden’s handling of his job, compared to 27% who approve of the job congressional representatives from the Valley are doing, and 17% who approve of the U.S. Congress as a whole.

The Valley saw similar approval ratings to the Inland Empire when it comes to approval of Biden, and similar ratings as the San Diego and Orange County region when it comes to approval of Congress – all are low.

When the survey looked at how voters view state level representatives, voters also offered low approvals.

The survey said only 42% of Valley voters approve of Gov. Gavin Newsom and 37% approve of California legislators more widely.

Among Valley legislators, only 36% of survey respondents approved of the job they are doing.

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The data points to a larger question about how well voters know who represents them. KVPR reached out to Valley legislators to get their take on these findings.

Assemblymember Jasmeet Bains, D-Bakersfield, wasn’t surprised by the dissatisfaction shown by voters. She said it could be a result of lack of representation for the Valley in Sacramento compared to large urban areas like San Francisco or Los Angeles.

“There is a significant urban and rural divide where urban representation is more robust than rural representation,” Bains said. “So a lot of the time you will have a lot of legislation focused on urban areas, and rural areas are neglected or left out.”

Assemblymember Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, said, for his part, he sees wide support among his constituents.

But with a survey that shows voters in the region have low approval of legislators like him, he said the findings could point to local dissatisfaction with the state’s supermajority power from Democrats.

“The discontent that this polling is finding has to be laid at the feet of the ruling party, not everybody thrown in,” Patterson said.

PPIC State Survey Director Mark Baldassare said the survey allowed voters to choose “I don’t know” on any of the questions, but very few did, meaning voters had strong opinions.

Baldassare said the survey wasn’t meant to poll on one single candidate, but instead get a feel for how voters feel overall about their government.

“It’s about how [voters] are feeling about the people who are going to represent them at a time when they feel like the economy is not going well and other things are not going well [or] the way they want them to,” Baldassare said.

A majority of voters answered definitively when asked for their approval of congressional leaders. The survey showed the highest level of disapproval since the data-gathering began in 2005.

This year’s survey showed 42% of likely voters approved of their own representative while 2% said they didn’t know the answer to the question. That’s much lower than in prior years, when more than 10% of voters said they didn’t know the answer to the question.

This is an election year, and many voters may be paying more attention to the political process. But despite clear majority disapproval of elected officials, there still appears to be a split on who voters want to see in office.

Though, Democrats still have a slight advantage in the heavily blue state. At least 51% of Valley voters would vote for the Democratic candidate in their congressional race, while 46% say they would vote for the Republican.

Rep. John Duarte, R-Merced, said the approval metrics he trusts best are election results. In the March 5th Primary, Duarte came out ahead of his Democrat challenger Adam Gray 55% to 45% — a difference of more than 8,000 votes in a largely rural district.

Still, Duarte acknowledges voter turnout could be higher, and, if it was, it could improve voter impressions of legislators. “It may be that not a great number of residents in the district that I represent know who their representative is,” he said.

Duarte is locked into a rematch with Gray for November. He said he has focused his campaign on topics like combating inflation, reducing housing costs and fighting crime ahead of the November general election. He said those are issues that could raise his profile among voters who also see those as their top concerns.

“There’s a lot of pain in the Valley,” Duarte said.