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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Deliberative Poll and the Initiative Process

At Fox and Hounds, Pete Peterson writes of current proposals for initiative reform in California, citing a 2011 deliberative poll.
PBS taped the proceedings, producing an hour-long documentary of the event. Here’s what the public discussions on initiative reform looked like. Some of the Deliberative Poll’s results should hearten Senator Steinberg and his colleagues as they push reform ideas, but he might tread lightly with others:
Indirect Initiative: Allowing the Legislature to amend an initiative after it has passed subject to the agreement of the initiative’s proponents.
Beginning of “What’s Next California?”: 43% Support vs. 44% Against
By the end of deliberations: 37% Support vs. 51% Against
(Note: While the publicized Steinberg proposal would involve the Legislature prior to ballot placement, on this and other questions, attendees were very skeptical of Legislative engagement in the initiative-writing process.)
Allowing initiative’s supporters to withdraw it after it qualifies for the ballot.
Beginning of “What’s Next California?”: 88% Support vs. 5% Against
By the end of deliberations: 84% Support vs. 9% Against
But a couple of the most popular initiative reforms to this “California in One Room”, do not appear on any slate of the current proposals:
Create a public review process of an initiative after it has been filed with the AG to “clarify the proponents’ intent”. This might look something similar to the Citizens’ Initiative Review currently employed by the State of Oregon, which I reviewed here. This proposal saw the largest positive jump from pre- to post-deliberation:
Beginning of “What’s Next California?”: 60% Support vs. 21% Against
By the end of deliberations: 76% Support vs. 16% Against
(See this post about the Oregon process.)

At the same site, however, Joe Mathews questions the value of the poll results:
You can safely ignore that deliberative poll. It has nothing to say about initiative reform today.
That’s not to say the What’s Next CA poll didn’t have value. It did, as I recounted here back in June 2011. Stanford Professor Jim Fishkin did a terrific job putting it together. There were some fairly clear and informed findings on representation. And there was no ideological bias that I could detect.
But the initiative piece of the polling effort was very weak – the weakest piece of the poll. The information provided about the initiative process was poor, both in quality and quantity, and there were barely 45 minutes in groups for deliberation. And in a panel discussion to inform the deliberation, the panelists often avoided the question in favor of broad, generalized (and somewhat inaccurate) statements about the process.