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Press Release · December 3, 2008

Post-Election Survey: Proposition 8 Results Expose Deep Rifts Over Same-Sex Marriage

Partisan Divide Also Emerges in Votes on High-Speed Rail, Abortion Restrictions, and Redistricting

SAN FRANCISCO, California, December 3, 2008 — Proposition 8, the ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in the state, drew its strongest support from evangelical Christians and Republicans, according to a post-election survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Majorities of Latinos, voters without a college degree, and those age 55 and older also backed the measure, which passed by a 4–point margin (52% yes, 48% no).

In a history-making presidential election that energized voters, California’s 12 state ballot propositions generated high interest as well. Eight in 10 voters (81%) report that they followed news about the measures at least fairly closely, and a solid majority (63%) say they were most interested in Proposition 8. The survey, which polled 2,003 voters from November 5–16, finds these differences between Proposition 8 supporters and opponents:

  • Evangelical or born-again Christians (85%) were far more likely than others (42%) to vote yes.
  • Three in four Republicans (77%) voted yes, two in three Democrats (65%) voted no, and independents were more closely divided (52% yes, 48% no).
  • Supporters of Republican presidential candidate John McCain were far more likely than those who backed President-elect Barack Obama to vote yes (85% vs. 30%).
  • Latinos (61%) were more likely than whites (50%) to vote yes; and 57 percent of Latinos, Asians, and blacks combined voted yes. (Samples sizes for Asians and blacks are too small to report separately.)
  • Voters without a college degree (62%) were far more likely than college graduates (43%) to vote yes.
  • While most voters (65%) consider the outcome of Proposition 8 to be very important, the measure’s supporters (74%) are far more likely than those who voted no (59%) to view the outcome as very important.

When voters are asked the separate question of whether they favor or oppose same-sex marriage, they are divided, with 47 percent in favor, 48 percent opposed, and 5 percent unsure—a result consistent with responses in the October PPIC pre-election survey.

“In our surveys, Californians have been closely divided on the issue of same-sex marriage for the last three years,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president, CEO, and survey director. “Proposition 8 had highly motivated supporters and a well-funded campaign, and in the end, they prevailed.”

The reason that voters most frequently cite in voting for Proposition 8 is that marriage between only a man and a woman should be recognized (63%); 16 percent mention religious objections. Most Californians who voted no (70%) say they did so because same-sex couples should be given the freedoms and rights guaranteed to everyone.

Proposition 4 Defeated in Highly Partisan Vote

The vote on Proposition 4 also revealed a partisan divide, but with a different result. The proposition, which would have required a parent to be notified before a minor could have an abortion, was defeated (48% yes, 52% no). It is the third time voters have rejected this proposal. Most Republicans (66%) voted yes, most Democrats (65%) voted no, and, again, independents were closely split (51% in favor, 49% opposed). Most evangelicals (74%), Latinos (62%), and voters without a college degree (55%) also supported Proposition 4. More proponents (50%) than opponents (42%) view the outcome as very important. Women (51%) are much more likely than men (37%), and Latinos (56%) are more likely than whites (42%) to say the outcome is very important.

The top reason given for supporting Proposition 4 is that parents deserve to know if their daughter is having an abortion (72%). The most frequently cited reason by voters who opposed the measure is a belief in a woman’s right to choose without consulting anyone (38%).

Asked more generally about whether the government should restrict access to abortion, most voters (71%) say no.

Californians See High-Speed Rail as Route to the Future

Despite a worsening fiscal crisis, Californians authorized nearly $10 billion to begin building high-speed train service linking Southern California, Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley, and the San Francisco Bay Area (52% yes, 48% no). The top reasons voters give for a yes vote on the measure is that high-speed rail service is important to the future of California (37%), will help fill California’s transportation needs (16%), reduce traffic congestion (10%), and make travel more convenient (10%). Those who voted no say they did so because the state cannot afford to build the service (44%) or that the bond amount is too much (24%).


The vote split along partisan lines on this measure as well, with most Democrats (65%) voting yes, most Republicans (66%) voting no, and independents more closely divided (52% yes, 48% no). A strong majority (70%) of voters think high-speed rail is at least somewhat important to California’s future, with voters in the Bay Area (48%) and Los Angeles (44%) more likely to say so than those in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties (36%) or the Central Valley (35%).

Supporters of Redistricting Reform Appear Headed For a Win

With an undetermined number of provisional and mail-in ballots still to be counted, Proposition 11 is passing by a slim margin (51% yes, 49% no). The measure, which had the active support of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, would take the authority to draw state legislative district boundaries from the legislators and give it to an independent commission.

Most Republicans (59%) and independents (54%) voted yes, and most Democrats (56%) voted no. More white voters (53%) than Latino voters (47%) favored it. Over half (56%) of the voters who approve of the governor’s performance and half (54%) of those who disapprove of the legislature voted yes on Proposition 11.

Supporters say they voted for it because it would change unfair voting districts (30%) and because legislators should not be allowed to draw their own districts (21%). Opponents say the change is not necessary right now (18%), the outcome would not benefit them politically (9%), or the proposition was too confusing (9%).

Voters Trust Each Other to Make Policy at the Ballot Box

California’s voters are generally satisfied (67%) with the initiative process and express more trust in their fellow voters than in their elected officials to make public policy. A solid majority (62%) say they were very happy (19%) or somewhat happy (43%) about having to vote on the 12 state ballot measures this election, while 30 percent were unhappy (20% somewhat, 10% very). Half say they trust California voters a great deal (13%) or a fair amount (39%) to make public policy at the ballot box, a consistent finding in PPIC post-election surveys (52% 2006, 50% 2005, 55% 2004).

But Californians think there’s room for improvement in the process. Seven in 10 say there is a need for major (35%) or minor (35%) changes, with Democrats (42%) much more likely than independents (31%) or Republicans (28%) to favor major changes. Voters support a number of reform proposals:

  • A system of review and revision to avoid legal issues and drafting errors (77% favor, 15% oppose);
  • A time period in which the initiative sponsor and legislature try to reach a compromise solution before the initiative reaches the ballot (77% favor, 17% oppose);
  • Restriction of initiatives to the November general election, when turnout is typically higher (50% favor, 41% oppose);
  • More public disclosure of funding sources for signature gathering and initiative campaigns (84% favor, 12% oppose);
  • A requirement that initiatives be the focus of televised debates (72% favor, 23% oppose).

Voters’ faith in their own ability to make decisions is understandable, given their lack of confidence in the state’s elected officials to do the job. Only 37 percent have a great deal (4%) or a fair amount of trust and confidence (33%) in the state’s elected officials when it comes to making public policy—a 15–point decline since November 2006 (52%) and the lowest point of voters’ confidence in their elected officials since PPIC began asking this question four years ago (52% 2006, 41% 2005, 48% 2004).

Internet Use Grows, But More Voters Rely on Traditional Information Sources

In a year that saw digital media become a powerful tool in the presidential election, what was the impact on California ballot races? More voters received news or information about the state propositions through the Internet or email than in November 2006 (40% today, 35% 2006), and more say they found the Internet the most helpful source of information in deciding how to vote (13% today, 8% 2006). But the Internet is still dwarfed by more traditional resources as the ones that voters rely upon to make decisions. More voters (37%) name the secretary of state’s voter guide than any other source as the most helpful—a 5–point decline since November 2006, but 6 points higher than November 2005. The next most frequently mentioned sources are advertisements (16% today, 17% 2006, 24% 2005) and news coverage (15% today, 11% 2006, 17% 2005).

Regardless of their information sources, at least eight in 10 voters across all political, regional, and demographic groups say they are at least somewhat satisfied with the information they had to make decisions on the ballot propositions.

More key findings:

  • Anatomy of a landslide – Page 14
    Most women (63%) and Latinos (78%) voted for Obama despite early predictions that they might not. Nearly six in 10 (59%) independents voted for him.
  • Voters see economy as top issue – Page 16
    A strong majority (59%) of voters who participated in the election consider the economy to be the top issue, followed by the state budget (13%), gay rights and same-sex marriage (4%), and other issues. Sixty-eight percent say California is going in the wrong direction, and only 19 percent see it going in the right direction.
  • Schwarzenegger, legislature get low ratings – Page 17
    Forty-two percent of voters approve of the job Schwarzenegger is doing. The legislature fares worse, with a 21 percent approval rating. Just 23 percent approve of the way the legislature and governor are working together.
  • Voters critique November initiatives – Page 21
    Most voters agree that too much money was spent on the initiative campaigns (75%), the ballot wording was too complicated and confusing (63%), and there were too many initiatives (52%).


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. The series seeks to raise public awareness, inform decisionmakers, and stimulate public discussion about the state’s governance system, initiative process, and proposals for reform. This is the 93rd PPIC Statewide Survey in a series that has generated a database of the responses of more than 198,000 Californians. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,003 California voters in the November 4 election who were interviewed from November 5–16, 2008. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is ± 2% and larger for subgroups. 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 a private, nonprofit organization 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. 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.