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Archive for the ‘California Ballot Propositions’ Category



Untold Story: How the Latino Vote Hit Critical Mass

Monday, November 15th, 2010

By Richie Ross
Special to Calbuzz

Back in 1992, the first “year of the woman,” both Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein were on the ballot for election to the United States Senate.  They both won.  The Los Angeles Times exit poll calculated that they each received 52% of the Latino vote.

In 1994, then-Governor Pete Wilson put Proposition 187 on the ballot.  It was the nation’s first anti-immigrant initiative.  The hallmark of the campaign was the famous television ad with images of undocumented people running across the border.  The announcer intoned, “They keep coming.”

If he only knew!

In the just concluded election, Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer captured 65% or 80% of that vote (depending on which exit poll you believe). More importantly, it was a bigger pie – 3 times larger than back in 1992. It was one of the major factors that kept the red tide out of California – and a factor that will only get bigger.

Here’s the story of how that happened…

Beginning in 1994, California began to change.  The numbers of immigrants who became citizens grew exponentially each year.  According to the Department of Homeland Security’s statistics, prior to Proposition 187, the number of new citizens in California each year had been a steady 50,000 to 60,000.  In 1994, the number jumped to 118,567.  In 1995, it was 171,285.  In 1996, 378,014. You get the idea.

Also in 1994, a husband and wife team, Miguel Contreras the leader of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and Maria Elena Durazo, then the leader of the Hotel Workers in Los Angeles (now Miguel’s successor at the Labor Fed) began something new: they linked organizing immigrant workers to organizing immigrant voters.  And they hired a young immigrant-rights firebrand, Fabian Nunez, as he protested Proposition 187 by carrying the Mexican flag down Broadway in Los Angeles.

Nunez served as L.A. Labor’s political director and eventually became the Speaker of the Assembly.

The campaigns we developed broke new ground, organized new union workers, and increased the political impact Latino voters have had on California politics – simultaneously tripling their number of registered voters, increasing the Democratic share of that vote by 50%, and doubling the percentage of the total votes cast in California from Latinos.

Through the rest of the 1990′s our campaigns focused on legislative races in Los Angeles.  We succeeded.  But it was all small.

In 2000, Maria Elena pushed for something bigger…

In 2000, our message was controversial (until it worked).  “If you want to make a difference, voting isn’t enough.  Don’t bother voting unless you sign our pledge to get 100% of your family to vote.”  Latino turnout rose… and accounted for 14% of the votes cast according to the State’s voter registration and voting history records.

In 2005, over dinner with some friends, Maria Elena heard a successful Latina businesswoman bemoaning the low Latino turn-out for Antonio Villaraigosa in March of 05. The woman told Maria Elena that it was “Imperdonable” (Unforgivable).

The City’s voting records show that the L.A. Labor Fed’s “Imperdonable” campaign increased Latino turn-out in the Mayoral run-off by 50%.

In May this year, Maria Elena called us together.  Her message was clear.  Latinos would end up voting for Jerry Brown.  That would be easy.  The challenge was how to motivate them to vote at all.

Fortunately, the Republicans in Arizona wrote a new law.

When we conducted focus groups, people brought the issue up to us.  When we polled it, we found 93% of California Latinos knew about it, 84% said it was more about profiling than immigration, and 73% thought it could happen in California. That view became more  believable when Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner in the Republican primary tried to outdo one another as anti-immigrant politicians.

So instead of a campaign where our candidate was a 72-year-old white guy, Maria Elena and the L.A Fed ran a campaign on behalf of “Tuesday” – Martes – and against an opponent – Arizona – that research told us Latinos were motivated to defeat.

And Fabian?  After he met with Maria Elena this summer, he decided to fund the “Martes Si, Arizona No!” television ad campaign. [Which not coincidentally included a pitch in favor of Prop. 25, the measure for a majority vote on the state budget -- Ed]

Latinos accounted for 22% of the votes cast in California.  None of us know how much bigger this trend will be.  We do know that Pete Wilson’s TV ad got one thing right… they keep coming… to the polls.

Editor’s note: For more on labor’s 2010 mailings to Latinos, including prayer cards of Jerry Brown with Mother Teresa and Cesar Chavez, check this out.

Meyer on Krusty: Why Exactly Did He Want This Job?

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

When Dianne Feinstein called Jerry Brown last winter to confirm what everyone in the world already knew – that she wasn’t going to run for governor, so the Democratic nomination was all his – Krusty responded that he was kind of hoping she would run so he wouldn’t have to.   When we reported the conversation at the time, we said that Brown was half-joking; after Leg Analyst Mac Taylor’s announcement this week that California faces a $25 billion budget deficit, now we’re thinking he wasn’t kidding at all.

As Calbuzzer Tom Meyer, Tim Gunn’s favorite editorial cartoonist,shows this week, the task is made far more difficult by a whole batch of initiatives passed by the state’s self-canceling-minded voters – More services – Less taxes! – not only hardy perennials like Props 13 and 98 but also Props 21, 22 and 26, a new trio of budget straitjackets passed in last week’s election.

Calbuzz is particularly miffed about Prop. 26, which for the first time imposes a two-thirds vote requirement for a whole batch of fees on corporate polluters and the like, because it snuck through with almost no coverage and little notice. As long-time readers know, the measure effectively voids the state Supreme Court’s decision in the Sinclair Paint decision, a business-backed effort that we first blew the whistle on way back when corporate types were trying to weasel it through buried deep inside a “good government” reform package being fronted by California Backward Forward.

As the full implications of Prop. 26 begin to dawn in Sacramento, we confess we’re kicking ourselves now for not screaming to the heavens about it more during the campaign, beyond the excellent Jean Ross piece we ran on its hidden agenda. While we, of course, criticize ourselves severely for the oversight, a full investigation by our Division of Corporate Responsibility and It Didn’t Happen On Our Shift Unaccountability absolves us from responsiblity and concludes that now it’s Krusty’s problem, not ours.

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Mac’s World: Here are Calbuzz Washington Correspondent Mackenzie Weinger’s latest whip counts and doped-out updates on the California House delegation amid the fierce maneuvering that has followed the Republican skunking of the Democrats in the mid-terms:

Despite her stated intention to remain her party’s leader in the 112th Congress, soon-to-be former Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces mounting opposition within the Democratic caucus.

As of November 12, 18 Democrats — including one Californian, Rep. Jim Costa (who declared victory this week, although votes are still being counted in the 20th CD) have said they will oppose Pelosi in her quest to become House Minority Leader. In the contest to become House Minority Whip, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is leading Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) with 51 public backers to Clyburn’s 13.

(Update: The New York Times, quoting unnamed Democratic sources, is now reporting that the Hoyer-Clyburn fight has been resolved, and that the South Carolinian will accept a newly created #3 post in the caucus).

Among Clyburn’s backers is Rep. Xavier Becerra of L.A., a rising star in the party. He currently serves as vice chair of the Democratic Caucus and is angling to stay in that position, announcing his intentionto stay in leadership in a November 5 letter to fellow Democrats: “As your Vice Chair in the 111th Congress, I have devoted my energy and resources to pass our Democratic agenda…. In the coming days, I hope you will give me the opportunity to speak to you personally about my candidacy for Vice Chair.”

At the start of the week, there was discussion of possibly moving each leader below minority whip down a spot amid the Hoyer-Clyburn contest,; that would have left Becerra out of luck for his vice chairmanship. But the new Democratic Caucus election schedule for next Wednesday ends with the minority whip race, meaning leadership posts lower down the food chain should  be settled, protecting the currently unopposed Becerra.

The other Californians supporting Clyburn are Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, as well as Reps. Barbara Lee and Grace Napolitano. Hoyer’s California backing comes from Reps. Joe Baca, Howard Berman, Lois Capps, Dennis Cardoza, Sam Farr, Bob Filner, John Garamendi, Jane Harman, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Linda Sanchez, Adam Schiff, Brad Sherman, Jackie Speier and Henry Waxman.

Across the aisle as members of the new majority party, several California Republicans appear set to become major power brokers in the 112th Congress. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is currently unopposed for House Majority Whip.

Among House committees, a batch of state GOPers are in line or vying for important chair positions: Rep. Dan Lungren, House Administration, Rep. Buck McKeon, Armed Services, Rep. Jerry Lewis, Appropriations, Rep. Darrell Issa, Oversight and Government Reform; Rep. David Dreier, Rules and Rep. Ed Royce, Financial Services.

Lewis, who served as the Appropriations chair in the 109th Congress, faces a challenge from Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, another veteran on the panel. And Royce is vying against Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), the current ranking minority member, for the top spot on the Financial Services committee.

With the GOP’s gains, of course, a number of California Democrats have lost powerful committee chairmanships: Rep. George Miller, Education and Labor; Rep. Henry Waxman,  Energy and Commerce;, Rep. Howard Berman, Foreign Affairs: Rep. Bob Filner, Veterans’ Affairs and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Standards of Official Conduct.

In other California congressional news, Dreier, McKeon and Rep. John Campbell are now in DC as part of the GOP majority transition team. And, along with Costa, who claimed victory over Republican Andy Vidak, Democrat Jerry McNerney in the 11th district also crowned himself a winner, in his close race against Republican David Harmer. Neither Vidak nor Harmer have conceded.

ABC – Always Believe Calbuzz: There were many doubters among the Calbuzz cognoscenti – some of them on our own staff! – who whispered darkly that in the midst of the worst recession in decades, we were totally nuts to keep yammering on about the importance of Prop. 23, which sought to suspend California’s landmark climate change legislation. This just in: the “No” on Prop. 23 campaign wracked up more votes – 5,416,385 at press time – than any candidate or other initiative, yay or nay, on the statewide ballot.

In other toldja’ news, the record will show that the Calbuzz Sports Desk focused its reporting from spring training on the Giants vs. Rangers, the match-up that made it into the World Series. Sometimes we amaze even ourselves.

Ironic Potheads, Obama Mojo MIA, EJ in the Zone

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Pot post-mortem: Who knew the most interesting, intriguing and ironic question of the entire election would turn out to be: WTF did North Coast potheads vote against Proposition 19?

Calbuzz kudos to Bob Salladay of California Watch for breaking it down in a nice piece that reports how the dope legalization measure lost big in weed-rich Humboldt and Mendocino counties, which mirrored the statewide vote of 53-to-46 against, while Trinity County smoked Prop. 19 in a 60-40 landslide.

Prop. 19 undoubtedly failed because some of the state’s largest counties voted against it, not sparsely populated areas in Northern California. But that’s not stopping supporters of the initiative from lashing out at pot producers in the so-called Golden Triangle. Here’s one comment that has been getting attention:

“Lets grab machetes and head up to Humboldt… Humboldt, your little community just pissed off a ton of people who are sick of paying your inflated crop prices!”

The arguments against Prop. 19 centered in part around the layers of regulatory oversight imposed by the initiative. Some worried about a provision restricting growing to a 25-square-foot plot of land, even though the initiative allowed for larger cultivation amounts approved by local authorities….

Many felt that asking pot growers to vote for Prop. 19 was like asking bootleggers to overturn Prohibition: Why would they give up such enormous, tax-free profits?

Bottom line: the free spirits who’ve built the market in California don’t want the damn government hassling them with taxes and regulations. In other words, they’re Republicans, as Calbuzzer cartoonist Tom Meyer aptly demonstrates today.

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P.S. Also check out John Hoeffel’s look-ahead political analysis which seems to point to the inevitability of legalization, perhaps as soon as 2012.

What ever happened to the guy we elected? As Democrats across the nation, at least those without the good sense to live in California, descend ever-further into a pit of political despair following the Republican wipeout, perhaps the most depressing development has been the total weenie act being performed by a self-pitying Barack Obama.

After a sulky, day-after press conference in which he more resembled a spoiled teenager stuck in detention than what you call your Leader of the Free World, Obama sunk to new depths in a sad sack appearance on “60 minutes.”

As Huffpost blogger and business executive coach Kathleen Reardon excellently reported:

I waited last night for the confident Democratic President of the United States to appear on 60 Minutes but he never quite arrived. In fact, the president who did arrive said when asked by Steve Kroft about his promise to change Washington:

“That’s one of the dangers of assuming power. And you know, when you’re campaigning, you, I think you’re liberated to say things without thinking about, ‘Okay, how am I gonna actually practically implement this.’”

What? Nah! He didn’t say that, did he?

Washpost columnist Gene Robinson took a broader and politically more  trenchant look at the president’s woe-is-me session with Kroft.

Obama was reasonable, analytical, professorial – but also uninspired and uninspiring. I’m just being honest, if not generous; when Kroft asked whatever happened to Obama’s “mojo,” the president gave the impression that he’s been wondering the same thing.

“Do you get discouraged? Are you discouraged now?” Kroft asked.

“I do get discouraged,” Obama replied, according to the transcript of the full interview. “I thought that the economy would have gotten better by now. You know, one of the things I think you understand – as president you’re held responsible for everything. But you don’t always have control of everything, right? And especially an economy this big. There are limited tools to encourage the kind of job growth that we need. But I have fundamental confidence in this country. I am constantly reminded that we have been through worse times than these, and we’ve always come out on top. And I’m positive that the same thing is going to happen this time. You know, there are going to be setbacks, and we may take two steps forward and one step back, but the trajectory of this country is always positive.”

Well, it may be unfair, but presidents aren’t allowed to be discouraged. They aren’t allowed to talk about the limitations of the job, or the fact that they are held accountable for everything from inclement weather to the lack of a championship playoff system in college football. Presidents are not permitted to acknowledge familiarity with the concept of “one step back.” And good things aren’t “going to happen,” in the presidential lexicon. They’re already happening.

We keep wondering when the Democrats will get serious about pointing out that the Republicans who went before them — like George Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger — have left behind them a path of utter devastation, from the national economy to a $25 billion California deficit. Wonder if Jerry Brown is studying what a weak-ass job President Obama has done making it clear that he’s had to clean up a pile of doggie doo left on his doorstep?

Meanwhile, truly masochistic erstwhile Obama fans won’t want to miss Politico’s take out on the president’s political perils (warning: do not attempt to read this if you are a Democrat taking Cymbalta, Effexor, Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac, Wellbutrin, Zoloft or suffer from suicidal ideation), although Jason Linkins helpfully lightens things a bit with a nice takedown of the piece’s extraordinary Beltway-centric perspective.

E.J to the rescue: Our old friend E.J. Dionne, who long ago set down the theoretical framework for Bill Clinton’s Third Way centrist politics, appears to have been taking an extra helping of progressive pills in recent weeks, as he’s been on a real roll with columns urging Democrats to stop whining and stiffen their spines.

After his world scooplet interview with Never Say Die Nancy Pelosi, his  smackdown of the post-election instant conventional wisdom industry and his lead-the-way analysis of some of the actual factual reasons behind the GOP House takeover, our boy outdid himself on Thursday with a terrific piece in which he picked the docile and doleful Dems up by the scruffs of their necks and tried to shake some sense into them.

Funny that when progressives win, they are told to moderate their hopes, but when conservatives win, progressives are told to retreat.

Worse, Democrats tend to internalize the views of their opponents. Already, some moderate Democrats are claiming that all would have been well if Obama had not tried to reform health care or “overreached” in other ways. Never mind that Obama’s biggest single mistake (beyond the administration’s projection that unemployment would peak around 8 percent) was giving in to Senate moderates and not demanding the much bigger stimulus plan a weak economy plainly needed.

In fact, moderate Democrats would do better calling attention to how extreme and out of touch the conservative program actually is. Moderates should be more offended than anyone that the GOP’s ideological obsessions (health-care repeal, tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation) have little connection to solving the country’s problems, particularly the economic difficulties in the electorally pivotal Midwest..

Give Republicans credit for this: They don’t chase the center, they try to move it. Democrats can play a loser’s game of scrambling after a center being pushed ever rightward. Or they can stand their ground and show how far their opponents are from moderate, problem-solving governance..

A working class hero is something to be: If, like us, you’ve been too busy with the Odyssey of eMeg to have caught The Onion’s recent series lampooning Joe Biden, NYT biz writer Jeremy Peters is on the spot, explaining the nuances of the counter-intuitive humor behind these very funny pieces, and pointing to the best examples.

Why Increased Robopolling in California is Troubling

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Mark DiCamillo of the Field Poll, and Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California, discussed polling in the 2010 election at the Sacramento Press Club this week. DiCamillo talked about the rising influence — and the problems with — robopolls like Rasmussen, Pulse Opinion Research  and others. What he had to say is too important to be heard only by the hacks of the press corps. Here’s an edited version of DiCamillo’s remarks for the Calbuzz cognoscenti.

By Mark DiCamillo
Director of  the Field Poll

When comparing the polling in California this year to previous years, two things stand out. The first is the sheer number of pre-election polls conducted and reported.  When reviewing only polls conducted in California’s general election races for governor and U.S. Senate, by my count there were at least 75 different statewide public polls completed by 14 different polling organizations. And this doesn’t even count the many private polls conducted in each contest for the various political candidates and campaigns.

The other thing that jumps out is that in this election cycle more of the polls than any year previously were robopolls, also referred to as Interactive Voice Response or IVR polls.

By my count nearly half of all of the statewide public polls reported in California’s general election in the governor and Senate races were robopolls. If you were to also include polls conducted in local election contests across the state, robopolls constituted the majority of all public polls in California in this year’s general election.

Because robopolls are now so prevalent, it is more important than ever for the media and the public to understand just how these polls differ from traditional telephone polls, especially those conducted by the state’s three leading public polls – The Field Poll, the Public Policy Institute of California and the Los Angeles Times/USC Poll.

Comparing the methodologies: The basic survey approach of robopolls is to contact people by telephone using the recorded voice of a professional announcer. The announcer instructs those answering the phone to use the keypad on their phones to answer their poll questions. Traditional polls use live interviewers to call voters who ask each question directly.

Because most of the costs of conducting a traditional telephone survey are derived from the time spent and wages paid to telephone interviewers and their supervisors when carrying out data collection, robopolls are much cheaper to conduct than a traditional telephone survey since there are essentially no interviewer costs associated with conducting these polls.

This is one of the reasons why they are now so prolific. They can be conducted at a fraction of the costs of conducting a traditional phone survey.

However, other than cost, robopolls differ from traditional telephone surveys in a number of important ways.

(1) Short polling period, no callbacks

Most robopolls are typically conducted very quickly over a one-day period. They typically make only one attempt to reach a voter at each number dialed. If no one answers the phone they do not make callbacks to that number but simply replace it with a new telephone listing.

By definition, this means that robopolls have significantly lower response rates than traditional polls and are polling only those segments of the voting public that are the easiest to reach.

Contrast this to a Field, PPIC or Times/USC poll which is typically conducted over a one-week period and which makes up to six to eight different attempts at each usable number to try to bring voters into their samples. While this is more costly and time consuming, it produces samples that more closely capture the varied demography of California’s voters — working and non-working, old and young, white non-Hispanic and ethnic, those living alone and those living in multi-family households.

(2) Limited knowledge about who is actually answering their questions

Robopolls make calls from a random digit dial sample of all possible residential landline telephone numbers within the political jurisdiction they are polling. The recorded announcer instructs the person answering to tell them if they a registered voter, leaving this important selection criteria totally in the hands of the respondent.

Polls like The Field Poll, the Times/USC Poll and virtually every private poll conducted for a political campaign sample voters off of lists derived from the state’s official voter registration rolls.

This gives the poll a number of advantages. First, it enables interviewers to ask to speak to a specific individual by name and if that individual is not available, the interviewer can make appointments to call back that voter at a later time. Also, because the sample of names is derived from lists of known voters, we know by definition that the person we are seeking is indeed a registered voter. Working off a voter list also provides the pollster with the voter’s actual party registration as well as their frequency of voting in past elections, since this information is contained on the official voting records. This information can also be used to ensure that the sample is aligned properly to the state’s actual party registration and in identifying which voters are most likely to vote.

(3) Exclusion of cell phones

By law, the automated dialing devices used by the robopolls are not allowed to call cell phones. Traditional telephone polls routinely dial cell phones by hand to include them into their samples. Since more than 20% of all California voters are now cell-phone-only households and cannot be reached when dialing random sample of landline phone listings, most robopollsters are systematically excluding these voters from their samples.

(4) Language limitations

To my knowledge, the pre-recorded messages of most robopolls are in English only. This excludes from their samples the additional set of voters who do not understand spoken English. By contrast, Field, PPIC and the Times/USC polls routinely conduct all of their statewide polls in English and Spanish. In addition, Field’s final pre-election poll this year was extended further to include four other Asian languages and dialects — Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese.

We estimate that 7%-10% of all registered voters in California would either prefer or require non-English language interviewing when completing a telephone survey, so this portion of the state’s fast-growing ethnic voters is under-represented by the robopolls.

(5) The need to construct a model and apply larger weighting adjustments

Each of these factors means that the quality of the raw unadjusted survey data derived from robopolls is of significantly lower quality than that of traditional telephone polls like those conducted by Field, PPIC and the Times/USC.

In their methodological descriptions, robopollsters admit that women are much more likely to participate in their surveys than men, and that older voters are included in their samples in far greater numbers than young or middle age voters. Because their initial data are less representative, robopolls need to make fairly major adjustments to their raw data to bring their samples into balance with the characteristics of the larger voting population.

By contrast, the unadjusted raw data obtained by traditional telephone pollsters more closely reflect the actual population of voters they are polling. While The Field Poll does make weighting adjustments to its samples, the adjustments tend to be small and have a modest impact on the overall poll’s statewide findings.

For example, The Field Poll’s final pre-election poll this year showed both Democrats Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer ahead of their Republican opponents in this year’s races for governor and U.S. Senate by eight to 10 percentage points in both our unweighted and weighted samples. The main impact that the weighting or sample adjustments was to align the various subgroups to known characteristics of the voter population. Importantly, they did not have much impact or significantly alter the overall statewide preference distributions initially found in the survey.

Despite their sampling drawbacks, the better robopollsters are able to transform the survey information they obtain into reasonable pre-election poll estimates by developing a sophisticated model of the probable electorate and adjusting their sample to conform to its characteristics. Because of this, I view the better robopollsters more as skilled modelers of the electorate than as high quality survey researchers.

But because of their need to construct models to determine the overall shape of the probable electorate rather than rely on actual survey data or information about each respondent’s voting record to determine this, the modeling itself can create potential problems.

For example, the determination of how many Democrats and Republicans to include in a sample is closely tied to voting preferences. When making this determination the robopollster takes great liberties in deciding who is ahead and by how much, since even a slight change in the partisan distribution of the sample will affect the preference distributions in most election contests.

This is perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the robopoll method, since it confers robopollsters with greater latitude in influencing the outcomes of their poll measures, and risks either introducing systematic biases into their poll.

Some robopollsters admit to taking into account a state’s voting history, national trends and recent polling to construct their partisan weighting targets. This means that the proportions of Democrats and Republicans allocated to their sample are derived from subjective judgments about the historical and prevailing political conditions in a given state and from other polls already conducted in that political jurisdiction.

It would be revealing to be able to compare a robopoll’s unadjusted and adjusted poll distributions in their pre-election preference measures. I suspect that if this information were available, it would reveal wide differences between the two estimates.

Because robopolls make subjective judgments when establishing their estimates of the composition of the likely electorate, this method can easily produce an entire array of different possible survey results. It is left to the robopollster to choose which result or political reality fits their own expectations at that moment in time. This is not only dangerous, it has the long-term effect of undermining public confidence in the objectivity of the entire public opinion polling process.

Concerns about the future of polling: As more pre-election polls employ the robopolling method, my fear is that they will crowd out the other higher quality polls that are being conducted, leaving the media and the public with a sometimes confusing batch of pre-election poll estimates to sort through.

This is not to say that better robopollsters are manipulating their poll results for their own ends. Some are trying to make up for the deficiencies in their initial survey samples. For example, at least one robopollster extended their data collection over a longer three-day period and experimented with the use of live interviewers to call separate samples of cell phone listings in an attempt to fill the gap of voters only reachable by cell phone.

Yet the other problems inherent in their survey approach remain. This is why I continue to view the results of most of them cautiously.

Polling on Prop. 19: One other controversy between robopolls and traditional telephone polls surfaced this year in California during the Prop. 19, marijuana legalization initiative campaign.

When polling this year on Prop. 19, the traditional telephone pollsters fielded a number of inquiries from reporters and others questioning the reliability of live interviewer telephone polls conducted on a controversial topic like marijuana. The theory they presented was that because robopolls avoid direct human interactions when conducting their polls, voters felt less constrained about admitting their true opinions on Prop. 19.

Most of the literature on interviewer effects on sensitive topics research like marijuana relate to people being asked about their own personal behaviors that might be embarrassing or socially undesirable. This, in my opinion, doesn’t apply when polling on a policy issue like Prop. 19, which simply asks voters their opinions about an initiative to legalize marijuana’s sale and use.

At the time, I challenged those questioning the accuracy of live interviewer polls on the topic to revisit the issue after the election. Well, the results are in and the live interviewer polls like Field, PPIC and the Times/USC polls were generally closer to the final vote on Prop. 19 than the robopolls.

In their final pre-election surveys the state’s three leading traditional telephone polls showed Prop. 19 trailing by an average of 8 percentage points. By contrast, the average of the two final pre-election robopolls conducted in California showed Prop. 19 trailing by just 4.5 percentage points. According to the California Secretary of State, with nearly nine million votes counted and more than one million votes yet to be counted, California voters were rejecting Prop. 19 by eight percentage points, 54% to 46%.

I hope this puts that theory to rest.

Mark DiCamillo is Senior Vice President, Field Research Corporation and Director of The Field Poll

California Voters Turn Back the Angry Red Tide

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Republicans seized control of the House of Representatives, pounding Democrats in states throughout the South, Midwest and Northeast, but the raging red wave that swept across the country crashed against the Sierra Nevada and washed back, as California voters rejected Meg Whitman for governor and Carly Fiorina for U.S. Senate.

The crushing victories of Democrats Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer in the nation’s largest and most diverse state –with an electorate that is increasingly younger, more Latino and more non-partisan — represented a counterpoint to the Beltway notion that America is in the throes of a massive and structural shift to the ideological right.

As of midnight, when Calbuzz first posted this report based on exit polling and partial vote counts, neither Whitman nor Fiorina had yet conceded. But as Brown told his supporters at the Fox Theater in Oakland: “They haven’t got all the votes in yet but hell, it’s good enough for government work. So it looks like I’m going back again.” (Whitman conceded a few minutes after midnight.)

Despite the most expensive race ever run in any state, Whitman, 54, the former CEO of eBay with the platinum resume and gold-plated consultancy was unable to overcome a crusty, former two-term governor who, at 72, will be twice the age he was when first elected in 1974.  At the last accounting, eMeg had spent more than $160 million, including $142 million of her own fortune, while Krusty the General had raised $32 million, supplemented by $25 million spent on his behalf by labor and other Democratic interests.

With his bare-bones staff and his flinty resolve not to start spending money until after Labor Day, Brown accomplished the one political challenge that eluded his father, the late Edmund G. “Pat” Brown — a third term. Pat Brown lost an attempt for a third term to a political newcomer in 1966: Ronald Reagan. (Term limits were adopted after Jerry Brown had already served twice.)

Brown’s “knowledge and know-how to get California working again” proved a compelling argument to voters who saw in the Attorney General and former mayor of Oakland, a candidate with both a hard head and a soft heart. Whitman, who fired her illegal immigrant housekeeper and ran a relentless barrage of negative ads against her opponents, was seen as hard-headed but hard-hearted, too.

Speaking to supporters Tuesday night before Whitman had conceded, Brown talked about the impulses, honed in his long-ago training to be a Jesuit priest and his study of theology, that drives him back to Sacramento.

“I take as my challenge forging a common purpose, but a common purpose based not just on compromise but on a vision of what California can be . . . We’re all God’s children and while I’m really into this politics thing I still carry with me my sense of kind of that missionary zeal to transform the world and that’s always been a part of what I do,” he said. “So I understand the political part but I also understand what it’s all about – the vision. And I’m hoping and I’m praying that this breakdown that’s gone on for so many years in the state capital and we’re watching it in Washington – that the breakdown paves the way for a breakthrough.”

And Fiorina, 56, who clutched as tightly as she could to the same policies and politics that carried conservative Republicans to victory in smaller states, was unable to dislodge 69-year-old Boxer, one of the most durable liberals in the Senate.

“The Giants beat the Texas Rangers and we beat the Texas polluters tonight,” Boxer told her supporters as she claimed victory before the final votes were tallied.

Certainly, the elevation of Tea Party favorites like Senator-elect Rand Paul in Kentucky – who said we are “enslaved by debt” and will have the singular power to plunge the world economy into darkness by filibustering raising of the U.S. debt ceiling limit – is a resounding victory for the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

But the anger propelling the Tea Party is less a positive vote for any Republican agenda than it is a vote to punish President Obama and the Democrats for the perceived failure to bring about the change they promised in 2008. It’s a vote to “just say no.”

Whether the new members of Congress and the Senate — which remains under Democratic control — will be rewarded for obstructionism or not remains uncertain. But as they seek re-election, Obama and the Democrats will now have the recalcitrant Republicans to blame for gridlock in Washington – an argument that Bill Clinton and his party made in 1996 with considerable success after their losses two years earlier.

The biggest loser among California Democrats, of course, is soon-to-be-former Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, who oversaw a crushing defeat that cost her the leadership mantle she had historically claimed in another mid-term just four years ago. Along with her, House committee chairs like Representatives Howard Berman and Henry Waxman were reduced to minority status by the Republican sweep that rolled through other states.

On the other hand, Southern California Republican Congressmen Darrell Issa, Buck McKeon and Jerry Lewis are in line to become chairmen of powerful committees in the House under speaker-presumptive John Boehner of Ohio. Issa, the conservative car-alarm magnate who lost the GOP nomination for Senate in 1998 and who has dedicated himself to opposing Obama and his policies, was all over TV Tuesday night promising a new era in Congress.

The weepy Boehner along with Eric Cantor of Virginia, Issa and other triumphant Republicans spoke over and over Tuesday night about “the message sent by the American people.” Apparently Californians, who represent one-eighth of the nation’s population, aren’t included among the American people.

Democrats in California and their progressive allies also won two important victories by rejecting Prop. 23,  which would have overturned the state’s ground-breaking law to roll black greenhouse gas emissions and by approving Prop. 25, which will reduce to a majority, from two-thirds,  the vote required in the Legislature to approve the California budget. These represented huge political statements by the voters on behalf of the environment and in favor of streamlining the budget process in Sacramento.

As expected, Prop. 19, the measure to legalize personal use of marijuana, went up in smoke.

Although Democrats and their progressive allies did not carry every office or measure,  the Brown win at the top of the ticket, which came despite high unemployment and despair about the direction of the state, suggested that voters have grown tired, at least for now, of divided government in Sacramento as they rejected Whitman’s mirror-image candidacy of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s just four years ago.

[Updated 7:30 am] The only Republican statewide candidate who appeared to have a chance for victory early Wednesday morning was Steve Cooley who was slightly behind Kamala Harris in the race for Attorney General. Gavin Newsom was well ahead of Abel Maldonado in the race for Lieutenant Governor; Debra Bowen was crushing Damon Dunn in the race for Secretary of State; John Chiang was way ahead of Tony Strickland in the race for Controller; Bill Lockyer was cruising to victory over Mimi Walters in the race for Treasurer, and Dave Jones was crushing Mike Villines in the race for Insurance Commissioner.