Could they all go down together?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The Field Poll has recently conducted surveys on 5 of the 11 initiatives — plus one bond measure — scheduled to appear on California’s November ballot. The numbers are all over the place, but there’s reason to believe that all six measures polled could be headed to defeat in November.

How’s that?

Well, the lack of initial support for a ballot initiative is almost always an indication that it won’t pass. Such measures are hard to sell even when they, at first blush, have appeal. To start out with less than 50 percent support and win requires a Herculean effort (and usually, very weak or non-existent opposition). On that basis alone, we can count out Prop 11, the redistricting measure, which shows only 42 percent in the poll, and Prop 4, parental notification, which has 48 percent.

The same is also probably true of Prop 8, the ban on same-sex marriage, which also has only 42 percent in a recent Field Poll. One caution: the politics of gay marriage, which are really the politics of marriage, are complicated and relatively new, and other polling has shown this to be a tighter race than that. This is likely to be a 51-49 kind of campaign.

The question is who wins.

The rest of the measures have majority support in the Field Poll. But the numbers may not tell much because so few people are aware of the measures. In fact, no more than 23 percent of voters were aware of any measures–with the exception of parental notification, a Groundhog Day measure which the voters have confronted in the past two election cycles. Support is more likely to fall than rise as voters learn more.

Prop 1, the oft-delayed high speed rail bond, has a decent chance, showing 56 percent support and 30 percent in opposition in the Field Poll. But supporters should not be comfortable. While the idea of rail is attractive, voters may end up focusing on the billions of borrowing required. Taking on new debt in a cash-strapped state at a time of credit crisis does not sound wise. And if the legislature and governor add budget-related measures to the ballot as a result of a budget compromise this summer, there will be considerable public debate in California about debt. In such an environment, Prop 1 is in deep trouble.

Prop 7, the renewable energy measure, shows even stronger support, at 63 percent in the Field Poll. But the measure has big political problems. Both state parties oppose it, as do local governments and environmentalists. If the environmental community can communicate its displeasure, the measure surely can be defeated. The presence of Prop 10, Boone Pickens’ $5 billion bond to help the natural gas business, also could drag down Prop 7 if the two measures become connected in people’s minds. (Memo to consultants: this may not be the time for a California campaign fronted by an out-of-state oilman).

Finally, we come to Prop 2, the Humane Society’s measure to give farm animals a little more freedom to move around. It has 63 percent support, but it also faces a well-funded and fierce no campaign from agricultural interests. No campaigns usually drag a measure down, but the Humane Society has one of the most sophisticated political operations of any interest group. And the society has the best record in the country of winning ballot measure campaigns — they win 4 times out of every 5.

This race will get closer, but in the end, the chickens win.

Everybody else loses.

Share this article: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Comment on this article


Please note, statements and opinions expressed on the Fox&Hounds Blog are solely those of their respective authors and may not represent the views of Fox&Hounds Daily or its employees thereof. Fox&Hounds Daily is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the site's bloggers.