Voters rank California's abysmal economy and high unemployment rate, along with continuing uncertainty about the state's budget deficit, as the top issues facing the candidates vying to be governor, according to a Field Poll released Tuesday.
More than two-thirds of California voters ranked those issues as most important, followed by education, health care, taxes, immigration and water.
Democrats, Republicans and decline-to-state voters agree that jobs, the economy and the state budget are the most pressing problems facing the state this year, as California faces a 12.5 percent unemployment rate and another $20 billion budget shortfall.
All three leading candidates for governor have been sounding similar themes as they stump for votes. Republicans Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner have argued for tax cuts, although they differ on the specifics, and creating a more business-friendly climate. They say those steps will go furthest in promoting an economic recovery.
The two are vying for their party's nomination in the June primary.
Whitman, the billionaire former chief executive of eBay, says she would focus on three priorities as governor: creating 2 million private sector jobs by 2015, cutting spending -- partly by eliminating 40,000 state government jobs -- and fixing education.
Poizner, the state's insurance commissioner and a wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur, argues that across-the-board tax cuts would create more investment in California and create jobs. In turn, that would lead to higher tax revenue.
State Attorney General Jerry Brown, who does not face a serious challenge in the Democratic primary, has not yet laid out a specific campaign platform. Yet he has signaled in interviews that he will campaign as a centrist with a similar mission of job-creation and fiscal restraint.
He also emphasized creating a realistic budget plan.
"I would lay it out, and it will be in deficit. There's no way it won't be. But we're going to face it honestly," Brown said during an interview with The Associated Press earlier this month. "We're going to tell the truth, we're going to say it's going to take several years to balance, but we're going to have a workout plan."
Beyond the top economic worries, registered voters differ in their approach to other issues, the Field Poll found.
For instance, Democrats said education and health care were their next most important issues, while fewer than half of Republicans surveyed rated those issues among their most important. Instead, GOP supporters ranked taxes and illegal immigration as most important, after the economy and budget.
"There are also significant partisan differences in the way Democrats and Republicans view the issues of environmental protection and global warming, with more Democrats than Republicans considering these to be top priority issues," poll director Mark DiCamillo said.
Those surveyed ranked global warming last in importance among 12 issues for this year's governor's race. That could provide a boost for opponents of the state's landmark global warming law, who are circulating a ballot initiative that would ask voters to suspend many of its provisions until the state economy rebounds substantially.
They hope to get the initiative on the November ballot.
The poll was based on a telephone survey of 503 registered voters from March 9-15. The sampling error rate was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points, higher for subgroups of voters.
The survey found more urgency among Californians than just four years ago when voters were asked about many of the same problems the state faced then.
At that time, 39 percent of voters said the candidates' positions on jobs and the economy would be among the most important issues to them in deciding whom to support, compared with 69 percent today.
Other issues that Californians rated as somewhat important to this year's race are gasoline prices and energy (29 percent), crime and prisons (28 percent), environmental protection (26 percent), reforming the state constitution (25 percent) and global warming (23 percent).