By David Siders
dsiders@sacbee.com
Published: Tuesday, Sep. 20, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Sep. 20, 2011 – 6:57 am

While politicians all around him watched their popularity plunge in the weak economy, Gov. Jerry Brown ducked the slide.

Despite California’s high unemployment rate and major legislative failures in his first nine months in office, Brown’s job approval rating ticked up three percentage points since June, to 49 percent, according to a new Field Poll.

“He’s the only guy who seems to have a positive rating in California these days,” poll director Mark DiCamillo said.

Brown’s job approval rating isn’t anywhere near as stratospheric as the 67 percent it was in 1975, in the first year of the governor’s first term. Nor is it as high as Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gray Davis or Pete Wilson posted early in their tenures.

But as President Barack Obama and Congress – even four-term Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein – saw their standing among California voters tumble, Brown persevered.

“He’s presiding over a state that most voters think is going in the wrong direction,” DiCamillo said. “Yet he’s still seen as doing a good job.”

The share of California voters who approve of the job Brown is doing is now 17 percentage points higher than those who disapprove, according to the poll. A majority of Democrats, 64 percent, approve of the job Brown is doing, while a majority of Republicans, 52 percent, disapprove.

The measure follows a difficult summer for Brown, who failed in two major initiatives: first to broker a bipartisan budget deal and second to pass a tax and jobs plan.

But Californians credited him for trying.

“I really feel for anyone who tries to rule the state,” said Michael Bower, 59, a music teacher from Modesto, “because I really feel it’s ungovernable.”

Bower, a Democrat, said he found Brown a “little flaky” last time he was governor, but he thinks Brown is more focused now that he is 73 and in his third term.

“He’s one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel,” Bower said. “He doesn’t have a thing to lose. … I think he just kind of tells it like it is.”

Brown likely is benefiting from that image and, among other things, from the popularity of a series of symbolic measures he used early this year to demonstrate his frugality in the state’s budget crisis, including recalling thousands of state-issued cellphones and cars.

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