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Policy/Law

Food labeling ballot measure gets broad support

by Michelle Salzman
If approved by voters, Proposition 37 would become the first initiative of its kind in the United States.
If approved by voters, Proposition 37 would become the first initiative of its kind in the United States.

Californians aren’t price sensitive when it comes to genetically modified foods, according to the results of the latest USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll.

Even when presented with information about how much regulation might cost the cash-strapped state, a majority of voters support Proposition 37, a November ballot initiative that would require new labeling for food that contains genetically modified ingredients. If approved by voters, the initiative would become the first of its kind in the United States.

Sixty-one percent of Californians favor Proposition 37 and the labeling of genetically engineered food, while 25 percent of voters oppose it. Forty-seven percent said they support the ballot initiative “strongly,” and 16 percent are “strongly” opposed.

“Something called ‘genetically modified food’ sounds really scary to people so it’s not surprising that support for the initiative is so strong,” said Dan Schnur, director of the poll and director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.

“It’s going to take a very well-funded opposition campaign to get people to move past a visceral reaction against what that type of language represents to them,” Schnur added. “The opponents will have the debate about economics — that this proposition could raise the cost of groceries and make food more expensive.”

Younger voters overwhelmingly support the measure: Seventy-three percent of Californians from the ages of 18 to 29 favor the initiative. Only 52 percent of voters ages 64 and older support it.

The poll also showed that support for the initiative is similar across education levels and demographics. Sixty-two percent of the voters without a college degree favor the measure; 60 percent of those with a college degree support it.

In a successive query, voters were provided with an explanation of how the initiative would financially impact the state. A statement noted that costs to regulate the labeling of genetically engineered food could be between a few hundred thousand dollars to more than $1 million each year. Additional potential costs, the statement noted, could be incurred from litigation resulting from violations.

But learning about the fiscal impact of Proposition 37 only shifted voter responses slightly, and a majority of respondents remained in favor of labeling: Fifty-six percent were in favor and 32 percent were opposed after hearing a statement about potential costs. Without the statement, 62 percent of voters supported the initiative and 25 percent opposed.

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll was conducted from Sept. 17-23 by Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Republican polling firm American Viewpoint. The full sample of 1,504 registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Follow all election news coverage at Election 2012, a resource for journalists and others interested in politics created by USC Media Relations.

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