LOS ANGELES – For many Californians, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) came to office in 2003 as something of a knight in shining armor following the recall of former Gov. Gray Davis.
But these days, poll numbers show that his attempts to reform state government are not wildly popular.
A San Jose State University (search) survey shows Schwarzenegger's approval rating below 50 percent for the first time since he took office. Pollster Phil Trounstine led the research.
"The governor's approval rating in CA was about 60 percent — 59 or 60 percent — back in January and it dropped down to 43 percent among all people and 49 percent among voters, and that's a huge drop we didn't expect to see," Trounstine said.
But the state GOP says the university's poll numbers are wrong and that the poll used leading language in some critical questions. One question, for instance, asks if voters agree with the statement "He's too interested in gimmicks, public relations and image."
Another question asks voters whether they "think things in California are generally going in the right direction or are they seriously off on the wrong track."
"This is a partisan poll. It was conducted by Gray Davis' former communications director. I think the questions they asked people are very misleading. We know that Gov. Schwarzenegger has taken on a very aggressive agenda in California," said Karen Hanretty of the California Republican Party (search).
That aggressive agenda includes Schwarzenegger's latest plans to address issues relating to teachers, nurses and state workers' unions, all at once.
These powerful interest groups have joined forces to fight the governor's plans to change teacher salaries from seniority-based to merit-based pay, redraw legislative and congressional districts and impose a state spending cap.
"We're going to bankrupt the state if we continue like this. We have to stop the automatic formulas and the big spenders," Schwarzenegger recently said.
Some indicators reveal Schwarzenegger is feeling the heat of a multimillion-dollar ad blitz. Last week he backed off plans to revamp the state's pension system after objections from police and firefighters' widows.
"What we've seen in the last week is that Arnold is human," said Democratic strategist and FOX News contributor Susan Estrich.
Schwarzenegger insists his reform agenda is alive and well and plans to call a special election before the end of the year to put the issues before the voters. He also pledged to take another look at pension reform next year.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by Fox News' Anita Vogel.