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Ballot initiative sentiment indicates disconnect between Sacramento and voters

by Christopher A. Guzman, published

With this month marking the one hundredth anniversary of California adopting its initiative process, a Field Poll released Thursday hints that voters feel more disconnected from the state ballot initiative process than in the past- as well as from their elected representatives.

By a 60% to 27% margin, more than twice as many voters believe that the results of most statewide ballot proposition elections come out the way that a few organized special interests want rather than what most voters desire. In 1999, voters surveyed on the question were evenly divided when asked about the issue.

Voters also indicated their belief that special interests have played a role in swaying elected representatives. By a 56% to 29% margin, voters think their elected representatives are "more easily manipulated by special interest groups" than the voters. By an overwhelming percentage, voters indicated that they want greater transparency when it comes to seeing which groups fund given ballot measures- specifically, by increasing public disclosure requirements on these interest groups.

Field notes that more voters 33 years ago described the statewide proposition elections as more of a good thing than a bad thing- by an overwhelming 83% to 4% margin. Today, even though support has significantly dropped, state voters overwhelmingly approve by 53% to 13%, with 26% of voters offering a mixed assessment.

Voters oppose, by a significant majority, two proposed changes to the system. One of these proposals allows the legislature the right to amend or repeal an initiative four years after being approved by voters in an election. The other measure opposed by a majority of voters allows for the legislature to place a companion measure on the same election ballot after an initiative qualifies, which if approved, can amend all or some of the initiative's provisions.

In response to a measure passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last week, 3 in 5 voters surveyed approved a move to allow statewide initiatives to only be placed before voters in a November election instead of a primary election- a move that could be key in drawing Independent voters to the polls.

The Field study also indicated that the Internet will be fundamental in driving voter engagement among Independents. The internet is now cited by the growing demographic as the most important information source for considering ballot propositions. Along with other voter demographics, utilizing the internet to search for ballot information has nearly tripled from 17% in 2004 to 44% at present.

Field completed its survey September 1-12, 2011 among a random sample of 1,001 registered voters in California. In order to cover a broad range of issues and minimize voter fatigue, many questions in the report were asked to a random sample of 481 voters. The maximum sampling error based on the overall registered voter sample is +/- 3.1 percentage points with a 95% confidence level. For voters included in the random subsample, the maximum sampling error was  +/- 4.6 percentage points.

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