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Proposition 32 struggles to gain support from California voters

by Michelle Salzman
Fourty-four percent of California voters said they would oppose the ballot measure, which seeks to restrict the amount of money that unions and businesses could spend on political activity.
Fourty-four percent of California voters said they would oppose the ballot measure, which seeks to restrict the amount of money that unions and businesses could spend on political activity.

Proposition 32 will have an uphill battle to pass with California voters next month, according to results from the latest USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll.

The initiative seeks to restrict the amount of money that unions and businesses could spend on political activity. It would also require unions to specifically ask their members if their dues could be used for political purposes rather than requiring that the dues not be used for campaigns. In the past, a number of similar efforts have been introduced by business efforts in California and defeated.

When California voters were asked if they would support or oppose Proposition 32, 44 percent said they would oppose the ballot measure, 36 percent support it and 19 percent are still undecided. Of those respondents, 32 percent said they strongly oppose the measure, and 26 percent said they strongly support it.

Across party lines, Democrats are more likely to vote “no” on the measure. Democrats oppose Proposition 32 by a margin of 53-30 percent, while Republicans support the measure by 41-35 percent and decline-to-state voters support it by a margin of 41-40 percent.

In households with a union member, 52 percent of voters were opposed to the initiative and 34 percent supported it. In nonunion households, opposition slipped to 42 percent and support climbed to 37 percent.

Black and Latino voters are more likely to oppose Proposition 32. Black voters would vote “no” on the initiative by a margin of 60-27 percent and Latino voters by a margin of 56-27 percent. White voters support the initiative by a slim margin with 41 percent in support and 39 percent opposed.

When read the language that will appear on the November ballot describing Proposition 32 that included an explanation of how California could be financially impacted by the measure stating that costs could potentially exceed $1 million annually to implement and enforce the measure’s requirements, the numbers did not change dramatically. Forty-seven percent of voters said they would oppose the initiative, and 36 percent said they would support it.

However, when read the ballot language without the fiscal impact statement, support for the measure jumped to 46 percent, with 40 percent of California voters opposed.

“There’s no question that framing this as a measure that impacts both businesses and labor helps the initiative’s proponents. You see that when the ballot language is read,” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. “But when voters hear the arguments for and against the initiative, and the opponents make the case that it would hurt labor a lot more than it hurts businesses, that advantage slips away.”

Opposition to Proposition 32 increased when voters were read a pair of statements outlining positions for and against the measure. The first statement in support said, “Proposition 32 is the reform we need to end the huge influence of unions and big corporations in Sacramento that costs taxpayers billions,” noting the measure would prevent special interests from making campaign contributions to receive special favors from politicians, such as multimillion-dollar tax loopholes and sweetheart pension deals.

The second statement said, “Proposition 32 is a corporate power grab. Of course we need to reduce the influence of powerful special interests on elected officials, but Prop. 32 is not real reform,” arguing that the measure has major loopholes that would silence working families while exempting thousands of Wall Street banks and insurance companies, allowing those business interests to spend more money influencing politicians.

When read these statements, opposition to the initiative increased to 48 percent, with 34 percent “strongly opposed.” Thirty-six percent of voters were in favor of the measure, with 24 percent supporting it “strongly.”

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll was conducted from Sept. 17 to Sept. 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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