Two in Three Voters Believe Statewide Ballot Propositions Are Good for California

Express concern over influence of special interests. according to Field Research/California HealthCare Foundation poll

According to a new Field Research Corporation and California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF) poll, more than two-thirds (68%) of California voters think statewide ballot proposition elections are a “good thing.” Only 9% of those polled think they are a “bad thing.” However, voters also expressed growing cynicism about the influence of special interest groups in determining the outcome of proposition elections. Forty-eight percent of those polled — an increase over a poll five years ago — think proposition elections come out the way special interests want instead of the way most people want.

“Opinions about proposition elections remain highly positive,” said Mark DiCamillo, senior vice president of the Field Research Corporation. “In fact, voters consider themselves more trustworthy than elected representatives to do what is right on broad public policy issues or important government issues.”

According to the poll, 65% believe the voting public rather than their elected representatives are more likely to consider the broad public interest in making policy decisions, 63% say voters can be counted on more to do what is right on government issues, and 56% say they are better suited to decide on large-scale government programs or projects. However, voters do believe elected officials, rather than the voting public, are better suited to decide upon highly technical or legal policy matters, and give a more thorough review to each particular aspect of a proposed law.

“This November, Californians will have the opportunity to vote on 16 measures, of which 12 are initiatives and one a referendum. Five of the measures are related to health care,” said Robert M. Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies (CGS). “The initiative process evolved out of an attempt to wrest control of the state’s political process away from the special interests.”

(Note to editors: The full text of Stern’s essay, “Democracy by Initiative: Shaping California’s Fourth Branch of Government,” is located at The Web site, in partnership with CGS, is part of CHCF’s election-year effort to provide California voters with a one-stop source of nonpartisan information on each of the five health-related ballot measures.)

In an important reflection of how age is related to a voter’s preferred source of important ballot information, voters under 30 are as likely to use the Internet as television or the voter information pamphlet. Younger voters are also less likely to rely on newspapers than are older voters. Across all age groups, voters rated their preference among the three main information sources when deciding on statewide propositions: the voter information pamphlet (38%), newspapers (37%), and television (36%).

“Since about one in three California voters said that they often or sometimes go online to learn more about statewide ballot propositions, we believe that the resources CHCF has placed on will be of significant value,” said Margaret Laws, director of CHCF’s Public Financing and Policy Program.

Other findings include:

  • Democrats and liberals, by a two-to-one margin, are more likely than other voters to believe that proposition elections come out the way special interests want rather than the way most voters want.
  • Voters, by a three-to-one margin, believe that elected representatives are more easily influenced or manipulated by special interest groups than the voting public.
  • Voters’ overall assessment of proposition elections is somewhat lower that those found in the late 1970s and early 1980s, shortly after the passage of Proposition 13, the Jarvis-Gann property tax reduction initiative.

The full report and additional detail on the methodology is available at through the link below.

The survey findings are based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 575 registered California voters. These were conducted in both English and Spanish between July 30 and August 8, 2004. The overall results have a sampling error of + or – 4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

About Field Research Corporation

Founded in 1945 by Mervin Field, Field Research Corporation is an independent market and opinion research organization with headquarters in San Francisco.

About the California Health Care Foundation

The California Health Care Foundation is dedicated to advancing meaningful, measurable improvements in the way the health care delivery system provides care to the people of California, particularly those with low incomes and those whose needs are not well served by the status quo. We work to ensure that people have access to the care they need, when they need it, at a price they can afford.