TITLE: Citizens, Government, and Initiatives: The California Special Election in 2005

AUTHOR: Mark Baldassare

PAGES: 31      DATE: May 2006

ABSTRACT: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special election in November 2005. There were eight citizen initiatives on the ballot, including four reform measures endorsed by the governor, and all eight measures were defeated. An initiative-only special election is a rare occurrence and provides a good opportunity to gauge public opinion on the direct democracy process used to make new laws, repeal existing laws, and recall elected officials. In a series of four PPIC Statewide Surveys involving over 8,000 adults, taken both before and after the special election, responses showed that the governor had low approval ratings, the public was pessimistic about the state of the state, and most voters did not want the special election. Still, the 50 percent voter turnout exceeded expectations for an initiative-only special election that a majority of voters called a “bad idea.” Voters across parties maintained their support for the initiative process before and after the special election—even as they rejected the initiatives, voting along party lines and according to their support for the governor. We consider the reasons the public supports the direct democracy process—notably, distrust in representative government—and the reforms that they say are needed to make the initiative process work more effectively.

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