PPIC Logo Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Press Release · October 28, 2005

Special Survey On Californians And The Initiative Process: If You Call It, Will They Come? Voter Interest In Special Election Surges

No Ballot Measure Enjoys Majority Support; Californians Back Some Reforms to Initiative Process

SAN FRANCISCO, California, October 28, 2005 — Surging voter interest in the November 8th special election could test the low-turnout predictions of many political pundits, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. But greater voter attention does not translate into increased support for specific ballot measures or for the man who called the election in the first place, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Although most likely voters continue to question the wisdom of the special election – 54 percent call it a bad idea – they are nonetheless showing more interest in and awareness of it. Eighty-one percent of likely voters say they are closely or somewhat closely following news about the special election, compared to 69 percent in September. “This level of interest is similar to what we observed during the 2002 gubernatorial election, which had a 51 percent voter turnout,” says PPIC survey director Mark Baldassare.

Voters also appear to be more aware of the specific measures on the November ballot: When asked which initiative interests them the most, a majority of voters are able to name a specific measure, with Proposition 75 (18%) and Proposition 74 (15%) leading the pack. Last month, voters’ top response was don’t know (38%) or none (12%). One reason for the increased awareness? Advertising. Eighty-three percent of likely voters say they have seen television advertising about ballot measures.

However, greater awareness has failed to sway public opinion when it comes to specific ballot measures. Indeed, only one measure (Proposition 75) has seen significant movement since August – in a downward direction. None of the measures actively supported by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger currently enjoys majority support, even when the likely voter pool is limited to a subset of voters who are particularly engaged in the special election (special election voters):

  • Teacher tenure (Proposition 74) – Likely voters’ support for this measure – which would increase probationary periods for public school teachers – stayed relatively steady during the last month, rising from 43 percent in September to 46 percent today. Among special election voters, 46 percent say they support the measure while 49 percent oppose it. A majority of likely voters (55%) say the outcome of this proposition is very important for improving teacher quality in California’s public schools.
  • Use of Union Dues (Proposition 75) – Support for Proposition 75 – which requires employees’ consent to use union dues for political contributions – has dropped 12 points among likely voters since August (from 58% to 46%). Special election voters are divided in their support for this initiative (47% yes, 47% no). Likely voters who are union members or have immediate family in a union oppose it (62% no, 34% yes). Still, strong majorities of likely voters believe that both unions (61%) and corporations (79%) have too much influence on candidate elections and ballot initiatives.
  • Spending and funding limits (Proposition 76) – As in August and September, the measure to limit state spending and change school funding requirements still trails by a wide margin (62% oppose, 30% support). Sixty-two percent of special election voters say they will vote no on this measure while 32 percent will vote yes. Despite the lack of support for Proposition 76, an overwhelming majority of likely voters (89%) believe that the state’s budgeting process needs work.
  • Redistricting (Proposition 77) – More likely voters continue to oppose (50%) than support (36%) the proposal to have a panel of retired judges rather than lawmakers draw legislative districts. However, 14 percent remain undecided. Among special election voters, 50 percent oppose the measure and 38 percent support it. Despite the lack of majority support for this measure, many likely voters (69%) believe that the way the governor and legislature go about the redistricting process needs change.

Proposition 73 – which would require doctors to notify parents when a minor seeks an abortion – has the support of 42 percent of likely voters, with 48 percent opposed. Special election voters are similarly divided on this measure (42% yes, 49% no). Voters on both sides do agree on one thing: Most (83%) say the outcome of this vote is at least somewhat important.

Ratings for State Officials Remain Low

Despite the fact that his special election appears to have galvanized voters, Governor Schwarzenegger’s approval ratings remain at a low point. Currently, 33 percent of Californians approve and 58 percent disapprove of the way Governor Schwarzenegger is handling his job as governor. Likely voters are slightly more positive about the governor than are Californians generally: 38 percent approve of his performance in office, while 57 percent disapprove. Fifty-seven percent of state residents and 56 percent of likely voters also disapprove of his handling of government reform. And far more residents today (39%) than one year ago (17%) describe the governor’s time in office as worse than they expected.

The state legislature also remains in negative territory, with 56 percent of Californians and 65 percent of likely voters disapproving of its performance. When asked about the job performance of legislators from their own districts, residents are more positive: 38 percent approve and 39 percent disapprove of their legislators’ performance in office. However, these ratings have declined sharply from one year ago (49% approve, 31% disapprove). Given these less-than-flattering assessments, it is not surprising that a majority of Californians (57%) believe term limits have been a good thing for the state and are opposed to term limit reform. Specifically, 62 percent of state residents oppose the idea of allowing legislators to serve up to 14 years in either the assembly or senate, rather than requiring them to split their time between the two houses.

Initiative Process: Californians Ready for Reform?

Californians are big believers in the initiative process, but many also think the system has flaws and could use reform. What are they willing to do to improve the initiative review process? 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 (77%) and having a system of review and revision of proposed initiatives to avoid legal and drafting errors before initiatives go to the ballot (73%). One review reform California voters won’t accept? Only 37 percent favor – and 57 percent oppose – allowing the legislature and governor to amend initiatives after they are passed by voters.

In the context of a special election where millions of dollars are being spent on initiative campaigns, an overwhelming majority of voters (82%) favor increasing public disclosure of funding sources for initiative campaign and signature gathering efforts. Other campaign-related reforms fare less well: A majority of likely voters (52%) oppose increasing the number of signatures required to qualify an initiative for the ballot, while likely voters are divided about increasing the amount of time during which a sponsor may gather signatures (46% favor, 42% oppose).

Lackluster Support for Supreme Court Nominee; Abortion a Key Concern

As the debate about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers continues, about one in three California adults (34%) and likely voters (31%) believe the president’s nominee to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor should be confirmed. About four in 10 adults (39%) and likely voters (46%) do not. Miers does not enjoy the broad support that John Roberts saw after his nomination to the court last summer: At that time, about half of Californians (49%) and likely voters (54%) said Roberts should be confirmed.

Abortion is a central point of debate over the Miers nomination, and a strong majority of Californians (63%) say the Supreme Court’s decisions on abortion are very important to them personally. About six in 10 Californians want the Supreme Court to leave access to abortion either the same as it is now (48%) or to make it easier (12%), while 35 percent would like to make it harder. Democrats (75%) and independents (68%) would like to see access remain the same or be eased, while Republicans (51%) would like the Court to make abortion access more difficult. Nearly half of Latinos (47%) would like to make it harder to get an abortion, compared to 28 percent of whites. On a related topic, a strong majority of Californians (61%) and likely voters (63%) favor allowing women to get the morning after pill without a doctor’s prescription.

More Key Findings

  • Economy Remains Top Issue — Page 7
    Californians continue to rank the economy (19%) and education (14%) as the most important problems facing the state, followed by immigration (9%). As further evidence of economic concerns, 56 percent of residents say the state will have bad economic times in the coming year. They are also twice as likely to say the state is headed in the wrong direction rather than the right direction (60% to 30%).
  • Support Grows for Public Funding of Campaigns — Page 10
    A majority of Californians (53%) believe that campaign contributions have a negative effect on the decisions made by elected officials. While they are divided about establishing a system of public funding for state and legislative campaigns, support for public funding has increased by 10 points since September 2004 (from 35% to 45%) and opposition has dropped by 11 points (from 57% to 46%).
  • Mixed Reviews for Federal Officials, Government — Pages 13-16
    Californians’ generally negative view of government extends to the White House: Majorities of likely voters disapprove of President Bush’s job performance overall (63%), as well as of his handling of the federal budget and energy policy (64% each). In contrast, most likely voters approve of the job their two U.S. Senators are doing (Feinstein 55%, Boxer 50%). While 55 percent of likely voters disapprove of the performance of the U.S. Congress, 57 percent believe their own House representative is doing a good job. Nevertheless, 74 percent of likely voters have little or no confidence in the federal government to do what is right and 69 percent believe it wastes a lot of tax dollars.

About the Survey

This survey on the initiative process and special election – made possible with funding from The James Irvine Foundation – is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey. This is the third in a series of surveys designed to provide information about Californians’ attitudes toward the state’s initiative process and this November’s special election. Findings of this survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,003 California adult residents interviewed between October 16 and October 23, 2005. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for the 1,079 likely voters is +/- 3% and for the 827 special election voters is +/- 3.5%. 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

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.