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Press Release · December 1, 2010

Post-election Survey: Marijuana, Climate Change, Budget Reform Captured Voters’ Attention

Independents Key to Double-digit Wins for Brown and Boxer

SAN FRANCISCO, December 1, 2010—Of the nine propositions on the November statewide ballot, Proposition 19—the unsuccessful measure to legalize marijuana—attracted the most interest among voters, and those who voted against it felt more strongly about the outcome than those who voted yes. These are among the key findings of a post-election survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with support from The James Irvine Foundation.

In the PPIC survey of 2,003 voters who reported participating in the election, 38 percent say they were most interested in Proposition 19, followed by 16 percent who name Proposition 23, the measure to suspend the state’s air pollution law (AB 32). And, similar to Proposition 19, those who voted no on Proposition 23 are much more likely than those who voted yes to call the outcome of the vote on the measure important. Ten percent say they were most interested in Proposition 25—the measure to lower the legislative vote threshold for state budget passage—while 5 percent were most interested in Proposition 21, which would have raised the vehicle license fee to pay for parks.

Despite concerns about a lack of enthusiasm about this national midterm election, California voters were engaged: Most report being more enthusiastic about voting than usual (46%) or equally enthusiastic (23%), while just 29 percent say they were less enthusiastic. Most (76%) say they followed news of the nine ballot propositions either very or fairly closely, down only slightly from PPIC’s December 2008 post-election survey. Republicans, Democrats, and independents report similar levels of attention, with Republicans more likely to say they paid very close attention to news about the propositions (37% Republicans, 29% Democrats, 26% independents).

“Californians did see important reasons to vote,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “They are not in a mood to spend money—but the vote on Proposition 25 shows that they are in a mood to make change. In the candidate races, a president who is popular in California helped Democrats here.”

Independents Gave Boost to Brown, Boxer

In the candidate contests at the top of the ballot, the support of independents was key for winners Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer. In the governor’s race, Democrat Brown beat Republican Meg Whitman by 13 points (54% to 41%) with the support of 86 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of independents. Latinos (75%) and women (59%) voted for Brown. Whitman got the votes of 85 percent of Republicans. Men (50% Brown, 46% Whitman) and whites (47% Brown, 49% Whitman) were more divided. Voters age 18–34 (65%) supported Brown, as did half of older voters (52%, ages 35 and over).

Boxer was re-elected to her U.S. Senate seat by 10 points (52% to 42%) with the support of most Democrats (86%) and independents (53%). Most women (58%) and Latinos (62%) voted for Boxer. Republican challenger Carly Fiorina had the support of most Republicans (88%). Whites (48% Boxer, 49% Fiorina) and men (49% Boxer, 47% Fiorina) were divided. Younger voters (62%) favored Boxer.

At a time when more voters are casting ballots by mail, those who voted this way were more divided (50% Brown, 46% Whitman) than those who went to the polls (57% Brown, 40% Whitman). In the Senate race, those who voted by mail (52% Boxer, 44% Fiorina) and those who voted in person (54% Boxer, 44% Fiorina) favored Boxer.

Proposition 19 Fails Among GOP, Latino, White, Women, Older Voters

Proposition 19 lost by 6 points (47% yes, 53% no). Republicans (73%), Latinos (60%), whites (53%), women (58%), and older voters (58% ages 35 and older) voted no. Majorities of Democrats (56%) and independents (55%) voted yes, as did voters ages 18–34 (62%). Most voters say the outcome of the vote was very important (35%) or somewhat important (35%) to them. Just 18 percent of those who voted yes call the outcome very important, while 51 percent of those who voted no feel the same way.

Asked the open-ended question of why they voted for or against the measure, the top reason given by those voting yes is that it would have allowed marijuana to be taxed (29%). The next most frequently cited reasons: marijuana use is a personal issue or not a big deal (12%) and passage would have freed the police/courts to do other things (11%) or would have led to less crime and drug violence (10%). The top reasons given by those who voted against the measure are that drugs should be illegal (33%) and legalization is not good for the state (12%).

But on the general issue of legalization voters are more evenly divided than the vote on Proposition 19 indicates. When voters are asked more generally about whether they think marijuana should be made legal or not, 49 percent are in favor and 49 percent are opposed. Among those who voted no on the ballot measure, 11 percent favor legalization in general.

Proposition 23: Half of Voters View Outcome as Very Important

The partisan differences among voters on Proposition 19 are also apparent in the vote on Proposition 23, which would have suspended the state’s air pollution law until unemployment remained at 5.5 percent for a year. The proposition failed by 24 points (38% yes, 62% no). Most Democrats (72%) and independents (64%) voted against the measure. More than half of Republicans (54%) voted yes. The measure was opposed by whites (62%), Latinos (60%), women (66%), and men (56%). Those voting yes most frequently cite economic reasons (22%) or saving jobs (20%) for their decision, and 11 percent say global warming does not exist. Those voting no cite increased air pollution (18%), support of the measure by big oil companies or polluters (12%), or a belief that the measure’s 5.5 percent unemployment requirement would essentially end implementation of California’s air quality law (10%).

How important was the outcome of this proposition? Most call it very important (49%) or somewhat important (31%); 58 percent of those voting no call the outcome very important, while 47 percent of those voting yes say so. Proponents of Proposition 23 said the state’s air pollution law would cost the state large numbers of jobs at a time of high unemployment, but this was not an argument that resonated with most voters. Asked what effect state action to reduce global warming would have on jobs, a plurality (41%) say it would result in more jobs, 26 percent say fewer jobs, and 26 percent say jobs would not be affected.

Partisans Split Sharply on Proposition 25

Proposition 25 passed by 10 points (55% to 45%). Across party lines, differences are once again stark: 71 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents voted yes and 66 percent of Republicans voted no. Majorities of Latinos (68%), whites (53%), and both women (58%) and men (52%) report voting yes. By far, the top reason voters cite for supporting the measure is that Proposition 25 will make it easier to pass the state budget (50%). And the top reason for voting no is that the legislature should be required to get a two-thirds vote to pass the budget (49%). Most say the outcome of the vote on this proposition is very important (43%) or somewhat important (35%), with those who voted for it (55%) much more likely than those who voted against it (44%) to call the outcome very important.

PPIC also asked voters about Proposition 24, which failed by 16 points (42% to 58%). Majorities of voters across parties report voting no (64% Democrats, 54% Republicans, 54% independents) on the measure to repeal recent legislation allowing businesses to lower their tax liability. Proponents of Proposition 24 argued that its passage would help small business and 34 percent of voters cite this reason for voting yes. Among those who voted no, 16 percent say it would be unfair to businesses, but the greatest proportion—22 percent—say they don’t know why they voted no.

Many Say Initiatives Were Too Confusing

Two-thirds of voters say the wording of the initiatives on the ballot was too complicated or confusing (32% strongly agree, 35% somewhat agree). And for the first time in a PPIC post-election survey, less than half say they have confidence in their fellow voters to make public policy decisions at the ballot box (35% a fair amount of confidence, 9% a great deal). But most also say they were very happy (18%) or somewhat happy (42%) that they had to vote on nine ballot propositions. This is similar to November 2008, when there were 12 propositions on the ballot, and November 2006, when there were 13. And two-thirds of voters are satisfied with the way the initiative process is working (13% very satisfied, 53% somewhat satisfied), although many believe the system needs major changes (42%) or minor ones (34%).

More Key Findings

  • Voter information guide still top information source—page 8
    The state’s voter information guide and sample ballot is the most helpful source of information about statewide ballot propositions, according to 34 percent of voters. Just 19 percent say the Internet is the most helpful information source—but this is up 6 points since 2008 (13%) and more than double the 2005 percentage (8%).
  • Californians’ concerns a stark contrast to last gubernatorial election—page 15
    As a measure of how much conditions have changed since November 2006, concerns about jobs and the economy have skyrocketed 50 points (64% today, 14% 2006) when state voters are asked to name the most important issue facing people in California.
  • Low marks for state’s leaders, little trust in government—pages 16, 17
    Just 13 percent of general election voters approve of the way the legislature and governor work together to make public policy, and only 12 percent approve of the job done by the legislature—where all incumbents on the ballot were re-elected. An overwhelming majority (84%) say they can trust state government to do what is right only some of the time (68%) or none of the time (16%).
  • Obama approval rating at 53 percent—page 22
    A slim majority of voters approves of the way President Barack Obama is handling his job. Far fewer (21%) approve of the way Congress is doing its job.
  • Switch to a GOP-controlled U.S. House: 41 percent say it’s a good thing—page 23
    State voters are somewhat more likely to say they wanted the midterm election to result in a Congress controlled by Democrats (45%) than by Republicans (39%). But they are also more likely to see the switch in control of the House of Representatives from Democrats to Republicans as a good thing (41%) than a bad thing (34%), and 21 percent say it won’t make a difference.


This post-election edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey is part of the Californians and Their Government series supported with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,003 California voters in the November 2 election who were interviewed from November 3–14. Interviews were conducted on landlines and cell phones, and in English or Spanish. The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±2.7 percent. For more information on methodology, see page 25. Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has directed since 1998.

PPIC is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. As a private operating foundation, PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office.