California Ballot Initiatives to Seriously Impact Races

In the Golden State, a number of ballot provisions may influence the trajectory of the statewide and regional races.

In the Golden State, a number of ballot provisions may influence the trajectory of the statewide and regional races. The most highly publicized ballot initiatives may buoy Democrats in the state enough to carry them over the finish line.

Perhaps the most highly publicized ballot initiative this year is Proposition 19 – the initiative to legalize, tax and regulate cannabis sales and consumption. Prop 19 is expected to be a game changer in California; in an election with an otherwise underwhelmed Democratic electorate and with the youth vote still hung-over from the 2008 election, Prop 19 is expected to drive up the turnout of both groups.

A Field Poll from September 26 has the proposition passing with 49 to 42 percent of the vote. A Field Poll from July showed only 44 percent supporting the measure, so that trend line is moving in a positive direction for supporters of Prop. 19. The Field poll’s findings are supported by a SurveyUSA poll from September 22nd that found 47 percent of voters in support and 42 percent against the measure. SurveyUSA also found a surprisingly high level of support for the measure across demographics – a majority of college graduates and non-college graduates support the measure and 30 percent of self-described conservatives follow suit. Only a majority of gun owners and those with a pro-live stance oppose the initiative.

In another popular progressive front, Proposition 23, an initiative to stall the measures proposed in the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, is quickly losing support.

Publicly supported by two Texas-based oil producing and refining corporations, the measure would suspend a California law that requires emissions levels be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020. The measure initially had polled in narrowly positive territory, but has since lost support. A Field Poll from late September showed that 45 percent oppose the proposition with 34 percent approving of it. It is opposed by a wide majority of Democrats, the majority of California’s voting population, and is even opposed about half of registered Republicans.

Mark Bernstein, managing director of the USC Energy Institute, called the initiative a threat to job growth. “Where are the jobs going to be when you guys graduate? The only sector that is growing is green technologies,” Bernstein said. “That’s where the jobs are. And it’s only there because the government is putting it in place.” Bernstein admitted that the costs will outweigh the benefits in the “long term” but said that technology will catch up with the benefits of the green-energy economy. This opinion appears to be shared by a majority of the state.

Other initiatives include Prop 24, a measure to repeal corporate tax breaks set to take effect in 2010 and 2012. Prop 25 which would require a majority vote of the legislature to pass an annual budget – helping a politically hamstrung California legislature pass a budget in a timely manner. Prop 26 would require a supermajority vote in the legislature to pass new taxes and fee hikes and Prop 27 would nullify the effects of 2008’s Prop 11 – a measure which put the responsibility for redistricting in a non-partisan commission. Prop 27 would give the power of redistricting back to the politicians.

There is a scarcity of polling data on Props 24 through 27, but there has been enough polling on Prop 19 to suggest that it will pass. Its popularity among young people (62 percent of people age 18-39 support the measure according to SurveyUSA form September 24th) will certainly drive some of them to the polls in an otherwise lackluster year for young voter turnout. That is bad news for the Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina and Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. The 18-34 age group supports Sen. Barbra Boxer 53 to 38 percent and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown 54 to 35 percent according to that same SuveyUSA poll.

Both the governor and Senate races in California are very close, and both tend races are polling close to or within the margin of error. A narrow victory is likely for either candidate in both races and the youth vote can push the Democrat over the top. If this level of support holds, the Democratic candidates for office will have Marijuana to thank for their wins.

In a year when Democrats have lost the support of independents 2 to 1, they may be saved by recreational marijuana smokers and their supporters. That may make it into a Republican ad or two in 2012.

Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at

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