Despite Concerns, Initiative Process is Here to Stay

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

For its October poll, the Public Policy Institute of California tested support for California’s initiative process. In a series of four questions the pollsters asked voters if they were satisfied with the initiative process, if the process was controlled by special interests, if there are too many propositions on the ballot, and if initiative wording is too complicated and confusing for voters to understand. 

Bottom line: the initiative fared okay, perhaps even a little better than the other lawmaking body, the legislature. Asked if voters approved or disapproved of how the legislature did its job the results found 45% of likely voters approved, 42% disapproved. Taken together, 60% of voters were satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the initiative process. 

This is not to say that the voters did not have some issues with the process. 

A whopping 93% of likely voters thought that special interests controlled the initiative process at least somewhat. The agreement was across the board with 95% of Democrats, 88% of Republicans and 96% of Independents coming to that conclusion.

In addition, 82% of likely voters strongly or somewhat agreed that initiative wording was complicated and confusing. 82% of Democrats, 81% of Republicans and 86% of Independents were in accord on this point. 

PPIC also asked if there were too many propositions on the ballot. The pollsters were careful to separate propositions from initiatives because not all ballot questions find their way to the ballot by the petition gathering initiative process. The legislature is also responsible for putting measures on the ballot. 

This November, one third of the dozen propositions facing voters were placed on the ballot by the legislature. The four are Proposition 16 to repeal affirmation action, Proposition 17 restoring the right to vote to former prisoners still on parole, Proposition 18 allowing a 17-year-old to vote in certain circumstances, and Proposition 19 to change property tax rules.


55% of likely voters agreed somewhat or strongly that there are too many propositions on the ballot while 43% disagreed. Again, voters across the political spectrum were pretty much in agreement. By 56% to 43%, Democrats said there were too many propositions; Republicans stood at 57% to 41% and Independents also at 57% to 41%. 

Given the number of concerns expressed, yet the by-an-large satisfaction with the initiative process, the initiative is bound to stay as an important part of California’s policy and political world. There may be efforts to check the influence of special interests, look for ways to simplify language or limit the number of propositions, but the initiative process in California is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

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