SAN FRANCISCO, California, December 5, 2005 — After months of speculation about where Californians stood and whether they would come, it was the angry voter who ruled the day on November 8th, according to a post-election survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The James Irvine Foundation.
Before the election, a major unknown was whether the majority of voters who described the special election as a bad idea in pre-election surveys would make the effort to vote on November 8th. Apparently, they did. The new survey – which polled 2,002 special election voters in the 12 days following Election Day – finds that voters who think the special election was a bad idea outnumbered those who thought it was a good idea by a 24-point margin (60% to 36%).
But besides a large dose of skepticism about the special election, voters apparently brought something else with them to the polls on November 8th that may help explain the ultimate outcome – a bad mood. Almost seven in 10 special election voters (68%) say things in California are generally going in the wrong direction, compared to 62 percent of likely voters in October. Only 17 percent of special election voters think they can trust officials to do what is right always or most of the time, compared to 24 percent of likely voters in August. And 78 percent of special election voters think their state government is run by a few big interests, up from 71 percent among likely voters in August.
In keeping with their general gloom, special election voters also have a markedly negative view of the performance of their governor and state legislature. Majorities disapprove of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s overall performance in office (56%), of his handling of government reform issues (58%), and of the way he is using the initiative process in making public policy (60%). The legislature fares even worse, with 66 percent of voters disapproving of its performance. Voters regard their own individual representatives more favorably, but even that approval rating (37%) falls far short of a majority.
And while few voters hold positive opinions of the governor and legislature individually, the combination is lethal: An overwhelming majority (76%) disapprove of the way the two branches of government are working together in making public policy. Only 14 percent approve of the way the two work together.
“This was a vote of no confidence for state government as a whole,” says PPIC survey director Mark Baldassare. “Special election voters took their disapproval and distrust with them to the polls on Election Day. The key question heading into the 2006 election year is where will all this anger go?” Adding to the challenge… Across the state, more voters say the special election has made them feel worse than better about California politics (38% to 21%).
What Drove the “No” Votes?
Although 85 percent of special election voters say they very closely or fairly closely followed news about the special election during the campaign, they are decidedly mixed about the experience of voting in it: 46 percent say they were at least somewhat happy about voting on initiatives on November 8th, while 51 percent were unhappy with the experience. Which ballot measure generated the greatest interest? Twenty-three percent named Proposition 73 (parental notification) as the measure they were most interested in, followed by Proposition 74 (teacher tenure, 19%) and Proposition 75 (union dues, 15%).
Nonetheless, voter interest in ballot measures did not translate into success on Election Day. Why did the vote go the way it did for the four reform measures actively supported by Governor Schwarzenegger?
- Teacher tenure (Proposition 74) – Among those who voted no, the top reasons were the belief that five years for tenure decisions is too long, belief that the measure would hurt teachers, a personal connection to teachers, the governor’s endorsement of the measure, and concern that it would discourage teacher recruitment. Opposition from Democrats (82%) and independents (53%) overwhelmed Republican support (78%) for this measure.
- Use of union dues (Proposition 75) – The main reasons for voting no were that unions should not be the only organizations with restrictions on campaign contributions, that unions give some people a voice that would be silenced, that union members can already opt out of having their dues used for political purposes, and that the voter has a personal connection with union members. While nonunion household voters were evenly divided (50% yes, 50% no), voters in union households were strongly opposed to this measure (38% yes, 62% no).
- Spending and funding limits (Proposition 76) – Voters rejected this measure for a variety of reasons, including the belief that it would take money from schools, that it would give too much power to the governor, that it was endorsed by the governor, as well as a general dislike for spending caps. Eighty-four percent of voters who approve of Governor Schwarzenegger’s performance in office say they voted yes, while 92 percent of those who disapprove voted no.
- Redistricting (Proposition 77) – “No” voters cited the belief that judges are not impartial, that redistricting is not necessary at this time, that the governor endorsed the measure, and that it would not benefit Democrats as key factors in their decision. Most Republican voters (70%) say they supported the measure, while most Democrats (84%) and independents (59%) voted no.
Despite their rejection of these specific measures, many voters agree that the special election raised issues that the governor and state legislature have not adequately addressed. For example, they believe that major changes are needed in the public education system (71%), in the way campaigns are financed (59%), and in the way the state handles spending (69%).
Initiative Process: Self-Reflective Voters See Need for Reform
Voters’ impressions of the dysfunctional relationship between the governor and legislature and the lack of state government attention to major issues influences their generally positive attitude about the initiative process. They are considerably more likely to express faith in California’s voters than in the state’s elected officials when it comes to making public policy (50% to 41%). However, the special election does appear to have tempered, at least temporarily, some of their overwhelming support for the initiative process. When asked to reflect on the special election, half (48%) say that the decisions generated by state voters are better than those developed by the governor and legislature, while only 3 in 10 say voters’ decisions are worse. In August, 58 percent of likely voters felt that voters’ decisions made through the initiative process were probably better than those made by state elected officials.
On a similar note, special election voters today are less inclined than likely voters in August to say they are at least somewhat satisfied with the way the process is working today (53% to 69%) and most (72%) think the state’s initiative process needs changes. Some specific criticisms of the special election initiatives include a belief that ballot wording was complicated and confusing (55%) and that too much money was spent to finance the campaigns (83%). With the recent election still fresh in their minds, what types of reforms are voters willing to support?
- Qualifying Initiatives – Voters who participated in the special election support the idea of limiting initiatives to November general election ballots (53%) and requiring the governor to have the approval of the legislature before calling special elections on initiatives (54%).
- Reviewing Initiatives – Strong majorities of likely voters support changing the current initiative process to allow for a period of time in which the initiative sponsor and the legislature could meet to attempt to forge a compromise (83%) and having a system of review and revision of proposed initiatives to avoid legal and drafting errors before initiatives go to the ballot (77%).
- Initiative Campaigns – On the heels of an election in which record sums were spent to finance initiative campaigns, a huge majority of voters (85%) favor increasing public disclosure of funding sources for initiative campaign and signature-gathering efforts. Nearly eight in 10 voters (77%) also favor requiring proponents and opponents of ballot measures to participate in televised debates.
About the Survey
This survey on the initiative process and special election – supported with funding from The James Irvine Foundation – is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey. This is the fourth in a series of surveys designed to provide information about Californians’ attitudes toward the state’s initiative process and the November special election. Findings of this survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,002 California special election voters interviewed between November 9th and November 20th, 2005. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. For more information on methodology, see page 19.
Mark Baldassare is research director at 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. His recent book, A California State of Mind: The Conflicted Voter in a Changing World, is available at www.ppic.org.
PPIC is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy through objective, nonpartisan research on the economic, social, and political issues that affect Californians. 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.