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Thursday, May 30, 2013

California Opinion on Direct Democracy

Democratic legislators are also discussing reforms to the 102-year-old citizens’ initiative process. Californians’ strong support for the initiative process is reflected in their perceptions of its overall public policy consequences. About six in 10 adults (57%) and likely voters (60%) say that the public policy decisions made by California voters are probably better than those made by the governor and state legislature. Pluralities across political, regional, racial/ethnic, and other demographic groups hold this view. Similarly positive perceptions have been evident since we began asking this question in 2000.

However, many Californians do find it challenging to make public policy at the ballot box. About seven in 10 adults (70%) and likely voters (67%) say they agree that there are too many propositions on the state ballot. By comparison, 59 percent of adults held this view in September 2008. An even more widely held complaint involves the wording of ballot initiatives. Today, 78 percent of adults and 83 percent of likely voters agree that initiative wording is often too complicated and confusing for voters to understand what would happen if an initiative passed. A similar 78 percent of adults held this view in September 2008. Today, solid majorities across parties, regions, and demographic groups are in agreement that there are too many ballot propositions and that initiative wording is often too confusing.

The influence of special interests, which has been a major area of voter discontent in recent candidate campaigns, is also an issue in initiative campaigns. Most Californians say that the initiative process is controlled a lot (55%) or some (35%) by special interests, and very few say that special interests are not at all in control of the initiative process. Likely voters (63%) are somewhat more likely than all adults to say that special interests have a lot of control of the initiative process today. Partisans hold similarly negative views, with majorities of Democrats (57%), Republicans (65%), and independents (54%) saying a lot. In previous surveys, similar majorities of Californians have said that the initiative process is controlled a lot by special interests (52% Jan 2001, 56% Sep 2005, 54% Sep 2011, 56% Sep 2012, 55% today).

While Californians are generally positive about the initiative system, they also favor changing it. One way to increase public engagement has strong support: Nearly seven in 10 adults (68%) and likely voters (69%) favor an independent citizens’ initiative commission that would hold public hearings and make recommendations in the official voter guide. Democrats (68%), Republicans (65%), and independents (73%) express support, as do solid majorities across regional, racial/ethnic, and demographic groups.