Arnold Schwarzenegger is losing the support of California Democrats and independent voters that helped him become state governor in the 2003 recall election, according to a poll from the Public Policy Institute of California.

Residents no longer see the moderate Republican who promised to end partisan bickering as being above the political fray, said Mark Baldassare, director of the PPIC.

“This is problematic because politics-as-usual is not an option for the governor,” he said, noting that pushing through his bold reform agenda needed broad bipartisan support.

The survey shows Mr Schwarzenegger has lost backing for his policies on education an issue that has re-emerged as the top policy concern among likely voters.

His approval ratings on handling the budget crisis have fallen from 54 per cent to 48 per cent in the past year, and Californians think they can do a better job themselves.

Almost 70 per cent said they believed fiscal reforms should be made via the initiative process that brought the former actor to power after a campaign filled with promises to end to “politics as usual.”

The only relief apparent in the study is that less than a third of voters trust the Democrat-dominated state legislature to do its job properly a finding echoed in attitudes towards federal government.

Mr Schwarzenegger's overall approval rating of 60 per cent, showed that at least Californians still liked him, Mr Baldassare said.

The governor, whose recent fiscal, pensions and bureaucracy reform plans received mainly hostile or sceptical coverage in the press, started work last week in an apparent attempt to build bridges with the print media.

He is currently undertaking a round of meetings with newspaper editorial boards in a tactical shift from his previous populist approach that depended mainly on summoning rallies in shopping malls and talk radio interviews.

The governor's dependence on political contributions from business interests to drive his agenda has been widely criticised as a betrayal of his promises to deploy a new broom and sweep the state capitol clean of “special interests.”

His plans to reform the state pension system and disable the system of automatic spending increases for schools regardless of revenues or enrolment, have generated concerted opposition among unions.

Popular concern about education has risen sharply: 11 per cent of voters expressed worries in 2003 compared with 22 per cent this month.

The condition of the budget, seen as a top priority by 30 per cent three years ago, is now ranked at that level by only 20 per cent.

Some 70 per cent see the budget deficit about $8bn this year as a serious problem, but only 38 per cent are satisfied with Mr Schwarzenegger's proposals, compared with 57 per cent a year ago.

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