Ask any political scientist or campaign consultant, and they'll tell you that voters rely heavily on the small summary of an initiative that appears on the actual ballot.
As such, the specificity -- and accuracy -- of that short summary can mean the difference between a measure winning or losing.
A new poll released Thursday shows an uptick in support for two of the November ballot's tax increase initiatives. And the pollsters believe that part of the reason could be the newly finalized, and perhaps more favorable, ballot labels.
The poll, conducted online of some 800 Californians by Pepperdine University and the California Business Roundtable, shows support growing for both Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 as well the income tax increase for education, Proposition 38.
Prop 30's support in the poll is 56.7 percent -- up from 52.5 percent who said they favor Brown's temporary income and sales tax increase just two weeks ago.
Prop 38's support in the new poll stands at 45.3 percent -- up from 42.4 percent on August 2 and up even more from its 35 percent support in the Pepperdine/CBRT poll conducted on July 19.
While some of Prop 38's support may be from the quiet ramping up campaign of its backers, the pollsters believe that the real difference is the newly minted ballot label.
In a previous Pepperdine/CRBT poll, those surveyed read Prop 38's official summary which says, in part:
"Increases personal income tax rates on annual earnings over $7,316 using a sliding scale..."
That makes it pretty clear that the initiative raises income tax rates on just about everyone. But compare that to the official ballot label (PDF) for Prop 38:
"Increase taxes on earnings using sliding scale..."
That subtle difference may make the proposition more palatable in the eyes of voters. "Clearly the ballot language matters," said pollster Chris Conlon.
But while Prop 38's supporters may be happy about the new data, it's clearly not enough. The initiative is still failing to break the important 50 percent threshold, and its generally weak numbers make even more important the new $10 million infusion of cash from its main backer, civil rights attorney Molly Munger.
The CRBT/Pepperdine poll shows almost a 12 point drop in opposition over the last six weeks, and still stronger support for Brown's Proposition 30. Under state election law, even if voters approve both measure, the one with the most 'yes' votes will be the only one that takes effect.