by Jill Stewart
American Reporter Correspondent
October 5, 2004
POLL SEASON, SCHMOLL SEASON: WHY MEDIA CAN'T SEE THE CALIFORNIA RIGHT
SACRAMENTO -- It's a presidential election year, a Sacramento legislative battle year and a ballot measure year. That means it's poll season. For me, dazed and confused in recent years by contradictory polls and the unpredictable political mutts known as California voters, I say "poll season, schmoll season."
You may recall how the Los Angeles Times Poll bungled the recall issue last year, adding so many blacks and Asians into its supposedly accurate "sample" of Californians that its poll showed a tie when the recall was well ahead.
You may recall pollsters blowing it in 2000, saying Gray Davis would beat the stuffing out of weak gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon. Republican Simon lost only narrowly - in a state dominated by Democratic voters.
Californians are mercurial. There's little doubt President George W. Bush will lose here. But after we agree on that, conventional wisdom flies out the door.
With Republicans fighting to recoup Sacramento legislative seats, and with an array of measures on the ballot - from gambling to health care to election reform - we'll soon learn how Californians really feel.
Only one prediction is solid: California voters continually resist the media's absurdly biased view that we're the Left Coast.
As Republican pollster Stephen Kinney points out, Californians have a conservative streak. We support school prayer and oppose the disgusting procedure known as partial-birth abortion. We voted to protect heterosexual marriage a few years ago, and then we strongly opposed gay marriage in an April 2004 Times poll. We ended affirmative action and, luckily for immigrant children, we enacted English immersion. We demanded "three strikes and you're out."
Yet look at our liberal side. Thankfully, support is growing for a stem cell research bond measure on the November ballot, despite its fat $3 billion price tag. We heavily favor gun control and, importantly for us and our children, we are avid environmentalists. A Sept. 23 poll by PPIC, the Public Policy Institute of California (which rarely blows it like other polls), shows we favor "universal health care" run by government - yet we deeply mistrust government.
Does the following fact make us liberal, conservative or moderate: Only 1 percent of us see abortion as an important election issue. One percent! Apparently, voters finally realized that the California media have for years been crying wolf on abortion, even though our right to an abortion is in absolutely no danger in California - and never will be.
It's all enough to drive a pundit mad. With major ads about to hit the airwaves, nobody knows what California voters will do on November 2. "They love to surprise us," Kinney notes.
Mark Baldassare, director of PPIC, sees this election as a detailed window into how Californians think. Refreshingly, Baldassare doesn't pretend to know.
"On many social issues - abortion, guns, environment - Californians are pretty liberal," he says. "But on fiscal issues, they have a reputation of being pretty tight with taxes and government spending. And, they are pretty conservative on crime issues, and on immigration issues have certainly tended to the conservative side. It gets very complex."
Will Californians stick it to the rich, or will they eschew the latest foolish plan to set off class warfare and drive out the state's business class? We'll see, when voters decide whether to back a poorly conceived measure to shore up mental health services by taxing millionaires.
Is it sinking in with voters that businesses cannot afford the $11 billion Prop. 72, which requires thousands of small private firms to pay worker health premiums? Or, do Californians reject the view that many employers will flee to 48 other states that lack this far-too-pricey mandate?
A few clear trends are emerging. To my great relief, Californians are getting wary of casinos, just four years after enthusiastically handing the Indian tribes a lucrative slot machine monopoly.
Prop. 70 seeks massive expansion of casinos. Competing Prop. 68 opens the door to slot machines at race tracks. Yet a new LA Times Poll shows only 33 percent support Prop. 68, and only 28 percent like Prop. 70.
Californians don't want to be twice burned. In 2000, we were promised (by tribes and the often useless League of Women Voters) that casinos would rise only on "Indian land." What a joke. It turned out anything could later be declared "Indian land" by powerful politicians.
As a result, two dozen tribes are shopping for faux "reservations" in or near California cities. Many tribes (some of them now made up entirely of millionaires) have forced their garish casinos, environmental damage and traffic jams on unprepared communities. It's out of control, all fueled by greed from annual revenue nearing $8 billion. Indeed, California casino income will soon surpass the staggering income from Nevada casinos.
My big issue is the "open primary," Prop. 62. Will voters adopt this needed reform? Or will they get confused by our state legislature's sly counter-measure to stop this reform and keep the closed primary, Prop. 60?
In 1996, Californians approved open primaries to allow "swing voting." Outraged, the Democratic and Republican parties sued to stop voters from having that choice. How dare voters demand to choose? The U.S. Supreme Court backed the parties, but gave us some very big hints about how to create a legal open primary. That legal version is on the ballot.
All this angst over allowing "swing voting" dovetails nicely with some fascinating new data showing that Californians increasingly register as "decline to state," and reject both parties. Boy do the parties deserve this rejection. The Democratic Party has listed so far to the left, and the Republican Party has listed so far to the right (but at least the GOP is waking up due to Schwarzenegger) that moderate, mixed-bag Californians have no home.
Baldassare sees worries here for Democrats. Latinos - in some private polls, particularly Latinas - are increasingly choosing "decline to state." Republican pollster Kinney says "Latinas are not switching to Republican, but they are avoiding becoming Democrats. It's interesting, isn't it?"
Politicians dread such uncertainty. But the rest of us should celebrate the mystery that is election season. Typecasting of California voters often proves wrong. The media is ignorant sheep. And luckily for us, the voters are still clearly in charge.