Schwarzenegger Has Lowest Approval for a California Governor in 50 Years

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the movie star who swept to power in 2003 to replace California’s unpopular chief executive, is now tied with the lowest approval rating of any sitting governor in the state in 50 years, a public opinion poll shows.

Schwarzenegger’s approval fell to 22 percent in the survey by Field Poll, the lowest since the 62-year-old Republican took the post and tied with the trough Democrat Gray Davis saw before he was tossed out in an unprecedented election recall. Schwarzenegger enjoyed a 65 percent high through most of 2005.

A seven-time Mr. Olympia bodybuilding champion who played a homicidal robot in the “Terminator” movies, Schwarzenegger’s approval has declined as he’s been unable to fix some problems he vowed to address when he first ran for office, such as the state’s chronic budget deficits and a fractious Legislature.

“He promised to come in and blow up the boxes and the boxes turned out to be pretty darn sturdy,” said Jack Pitney, who teaches politics at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. “For a variety of reasons he simply didn’t live up to his early promises. Some of this reflects the structure of the state’s government and some of it reflects his own shortcomings, mainly that he tends to overpromise and under- deliver.”

Worst Showing

The 22 percent for Schwarzenegger and Davis is the worst showing for a governor since the Field Poll began taking the survey in 1959. Schwarzenegger, a political novice before his electoral victory, cast himself as an outsider who wouldn’t be beholden to donors and could end partisan rancor.

Schwarzenegger presided over the longest budget impasse in state history in 2008, and last year California was forced to pay bills with IOUs for only the second time since the Great Depression. He and lawmakers are again locked in a stalemate over a $19 billion deficit. He has vowed to thwart any tax increases and has proposed $12 billion of spending cuts opposed by Democrats who control the Legislature. Just 16 percent of those surveyed approve of the lawmakers’ job performance.

“People have a right to be upset with their elected officials, which is why the governor is fighting to reform our broken budget, pension, and tax systems and get people back to work,” Schwarzenegger’s spokesman, Aaron McLear, said in an e- mail.

Schwarzenegger must leave office in January because of term limits. Meg Whitman, the former EBay Inc. chief executive officer, and former governor and current state Attorney General Jerry Brown are vying to replace him. They were tied in a Field Poll survey released July 7. Brown’s lowest approval rating, while he was governor from 1975 through 1983, was 38 percent in 1980, according to the Field poll today. His highest was 69 percent in 1976.

The survey by San Francisco-based Field Research Corp. of 1,390 registered voters was conducted June 22 through July 5 and has a sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael B. Marois in Sacramento, California, at mmarois@bloomberg.net

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