The Initiative Love Affair Continues

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Tonight's new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California is, as always, chock full of items that are worth mulling over: a bitterly divided state over the issue of gay marriage, lousy approval ratings for the governor and legislators, and a better sense of who voted for whom in the race for the White House.

A lot of that will be covered by the rest of the news biz, which sent me looking for some other morsels, like this one: we Californians still love our initiatives.

Maybe not individual ballot initiatives, but the system itself. PPIC found 67% of those surveyed were either somewhat satisfied or very satisfied with the initiative process. That's consistent with their polling from two years ago, but a much warmer and fuzzy feeling about initiatives than voters expressed after Governor Schwarzenegger's 2005 special election.

The most satisified subgroup? Independent voters, of which 73% surveyed give the process a thumbs up.

That being said, it's still interesting how many grumblings there are about a process people like. All subgroups agree there could be changes to the initiative system, though Democrats (42%) want major changes more than anyone else. 51% of respondents overall say there was too much money spent on initiative campaigns in 2008, and almost a third "strongly" agreed that the wording of the measures was too complicated.

So what would folks change? 84% said there should be more disclosure of campaign money, including signature gathering. And 72% of those surveyed believe the opposing sides in an initiative campaign should have to participate in a series... a series... of televised debates (I have to believe the euphoria of a fascinating presidential election has some folks forgetting what they really watch when the clicker is in their hand).

It's hard to know why the love affair (or maybe love/hate affair) with initiatives still continues, but here's one guess, based on info in this poll: when asked who they trust more to make public policy -- lawmakers in Sacramento or voters at the ballot box -- PPIC's respondents chose... themselves. Using the scores from two levels of trust, it's 37% for elected officials, 52% for Joe and Jane Public.

That may say more than anything about why direct democracy is alive and well in California.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new California Politics & Government Desk. He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades, serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and most recently as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. In 2014, he was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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