A new statewide poll suggests that Californians support some of the underlying themes pushed by backers of two tax increase propositions and a measure to impose major limitations on political spending for organized labor - yet only one of those measures is actually ahead.
Wednesday night's survey from the Public Policy Institute of California (here) generally confirms what's been seen in smaller tracking polls: Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 tax hike holding on to the support of a slim majority of likely voters - 52 percent. Proposition 38, the income tax hike earmarked for K-12 schools, is a split decision in the survey - 45 percent support, 45 percent oppose - and thus still not in a position to pass.
PPIC finds even less support for Proposition 32, the November initiative to ban political contributions to state candidates and all political money raised by paycheck deductions. 42 percent of likely voters said they'd vote for Prop 32, 49 percent said they oppose the measure.
(The poll has a 4.4 percent chance of sampling error for likely voters.)
At first blush, only the Prop 32 number may qualify as news, as earlier polls from other groups have found it winning but somewhat dropping. Even so, it would be hard to call the news surprising. The initiative hasn't fared well with opinion writers, who seem to believe it's a Trojan horse whose real goal (as was the case with 1998 and 2005 initiatives) is to turn off the spigot of union money in California politics. Prop 32 supporters have only recently gotten an infusion of outside financial help, while organized labor has raised more than $37 million, seeing the initiative as life or death for its political power.
Like so many polls from the PPIC team, this one is rich in details - details suggesting that, under the right circumstances, all three initiatives could all end up winning on November 6. That would undoubtedly be huge news.
PPIC finds that like so many elections, this one could hinge on who actually casts a ballot. The two tax measures, Prop 30 and Prop 38, both appear held back by weak support from men (45 percent and 40 percent, respectively) and voters age 55+ (42 percent, 32 percent). But the tax plans have support among other important subsets of likely voters: women (59 percent for Prop 30, 50 percent for Prop 38); voters age 18-34 (72 percent for Prop 30, 67 percent for Prop 38); and Latinos (66 percent for Prop 30, 58 percent for Prop 38).
"Turnout will be an important ingredient in determining the November outcome of the two tax measures," says PPIC president and pollster Mark Baldassare.
And because the support rests so strongly with those historically voting along Democratic party lines, it's not hard to draw a line between these initiatives and enthusiasm over the presidential race in California. Or put it this way: high turnout and a big win for Barack Obama, similar to what happened in 2008, would probably mean victory for Prop 30 and Prop 38. That, of course, would be substantially more voters casting ballots than most every other recent statewide election. Thus, it's far too early for tax increase supporters, especially Prop 38's team, to be patting themselves on the back.
The PPIC tea leaves are a little harder to read on Proposition 32. But here, too, the poll shows ways the controversial initiative could win... but only if those who typically support the Democratic party line aren't swayed by the TV ad blitz that's no doubt right around the corner. And that's a big "if."
The unknown here is how Prop 32 becomes portrayed in the weeks leading up to Election Day.
Asked by PPIC a more generic question - whether they support new restrictions on labor unions' political spending - 54 percent of likely voters said yes. And what's somewhat surprising is that of the 29 voter subgroups in the poll, a majority of all but five also said they support the idea of limits on labor union contributions to candidates. That includes some voting blocs that have been pretty reliable for Democrats: Bay Area voters (52 percent), liberals (51 percent), young voters (62 percent), college graduates (55 percent), and the least wealthy (51 percent).
Prop 32 opponents will contend, and rightly so, that PPIC's question about candidate contributions is more narrow than what Prop 32 would ultimately do. Still, it shows that voters have some pretty strong opinions about the influence of California's biggest political players.
Restrictions on corporate political spending are supported in the PPIC poll by an equal number of Republicans - 51 percent - as Democrats supported a clamping down on union cash. And while the support for new restrictions here were more across the board, it's worth noting that the poll finds 53 percent of conservative voters and 56 percent of older voters in favor of less corporate cash for candidates. Those are two subgroups that have historically been reliable for corporate political viewpoints.
Again, there's an important caveat here that those general questions aren't about Prop 32, per se. But they are precisely the arguments that its supporters hope to make... which is what makes this poll seem like it offers hope to Prop 32 backers. Even so, they'll have a tough needle to thread in making the case that the initiative would have an equal impact on both sides of the California political battleground.
Among PPIC subgroups, Prop 32 is behind by 10 points among men, 16 points among voters making between $40,000 and $79,000 a year, and by a whopping 35 points among Latinos.
The poll also suggests undecided voters are worth watching, especially on the tax increase measure Proposition 38. The measure has larger undecided numbers compared to the Brown's Prop 30 among almost all voter subgroups: independents (+8 undecideds vis-à-vis Prop 30), Bay Area voters (+6), liberal voters (+7), Latino voters (+7), and middle income voters (+6).
But both tax measures have double digit undecided voters among Democrats, women, and the parents of public school children. Those would seem to be key constituencies for two campaigns that are playing up the positive impact of their tax increases on California schools.
So what happens next? Hard to say, given that the real heart of the November initiative campaign is these final seven weeks. Ads have only sporadically begun appearing on TV airwaves. Fliers haven't yet bombarded mailboxes. There's a lot of campaigning left to do.
But victory doesn't seem out of reach for any of these ballot propositions. Gov. Brown clearly has the best shot of the three, but the right message and broad political climate could boost all of the measures. And that would really confound the pundits.