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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Deliberative Poll Results

Earlier posts discussed the What's Next California Deliberative Poll. Yesterday the project released the results. The findings about the Legislature are particularly relevant to our chapters on federalism and campaigns and elections:
Overall, participants were skeptical of the Legislature’s efficacy. Close to 70% questioned whether the Legislature was able “to get important things done.” However, Poll participants were optimistic about the public’s capacity to inform and engage with government, and after deliberation supported legislative and electoral reforms intended to improve the ability of legislators to represent their constituents, such as lengthening legislative terms from two to four years in the Assembly and four to six in the Senate, which rose from 46% to 80% after deliberation. When asked to choose between having fewer legislators who each represent more people vs. more legislators who each represent fewer people, support for the latter option increased from 57% to 71%. Given the low regard the participants had for the job the Legislature is doing, this support for increasing the length of terms and the size of the Legislature is noteworthy.

California has 40 Senators and 80 Representative in its Assembly, the same number as it had in 1879, when the state had under 1,000,000 residents. It now has over 37 million people and each member of the Assembly represents a district that ranges from several hundred thousand persons to over 1,000,000, larger than some states.

This requires members of the Assembly to raise huge sums of money and spend most of their time fundraising and campaigning. It has also resulted in donors and special interest groups having inordinate power in Sacramento.

This has got to change.

California has term limits, limits on contributions and disclosure rules but still has massive deficits and gridlock in its lawmaking. Reducing the size of the districts, as advocated by RescueCalifornia, will greatly reduce the need for campaign funds and return politics in this state to debating policy rather than a contest of television and radio ads.