The Election That Tanked

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There hasn't been much of a post-mortem among politicos about the May 19 election -- partially because the state's fiscal crisis hasn't allowed time for pondering, but also because it's seemed pretty darn clear: the voters thought the budget deficit measures stunk.

Nonetheless, a couple of interesting points have come up in the past 24 hours... today from the state's preeminent pollsters and yesterday in my interview with Governor Schwarzenegger.

All but one of the six measures placed before the voters by the Legislature in a special election got creamed (and the one that passed wasn't much in the way of budget reform/fix). So what happened?

At today's monthly luncheon of the Sacramento Press Club, pollsters Mark Baldassare and Mark DiCamillo offered their own assessment of the election results. And they don't see those results the way that the governor does -- namely, as a repudiation of tax increases.

Baldassare, who heads up the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, said the results "don't reflect the will of the people." And DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, called the small number of voters who cast ballots a "skewed sample" that was "unrepresentative" of Californians... or even Californians who show up to vote for normal elections.

DiCamillo went one step further, saying that he believes the typical voter on May 19 was older (55 or older), no kids, and male. And add to that... angry, especially about that $16 billion tax increase linked to Proposition 1A.

"Once voters turned against Prop 1A," DiCamillo told the press club luncheon, "they turned against the rest of the measures en masse."

So it begs the question: why would Schwarzenegger, who has wanted a spending limit like Prop 1A (or stronger) ever since he won the 2003 recall election... tack it to a huge tax hike, something he also staked out opposition to for his entire political career?

"It was not my idea to link those two together," said Schwarzenegger. "We always had concerns that it could be misconstrued."

That's about as far as the governor was willing to go down Contemplation Highway; from there, he rejected any notion that his last, best chance for a spending limitation has passed by... drawing in the new NBA champions into his world of eternal optimism.

The audio from that part of the interview is below.

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Smart politicos know why Prop 1A went down the way it did: a complicated deal to keep both labor unions and conservatives (ostensibly) bound together on the issue of spending limits and new revenues.

Still, pollster Mark DiCamillo believes that based on both Field's and PPIC's polling over recent times, all taxes are not equal to voters. "Voters are more likely to tolerate targeted taxes," he said today. Of course, those tax hikes -- on things like alcohol, tobacco, and pornography -- may not bring in enough cash to make a substantive change.

And both pollsters had some advice for legislators, who are wrapping up budget conference committee work this afternoon: a spoonful of sugar with the medicine might help, if they're thinking taxes. Baldassare and DiCamillo said that some government reforms... and attempts to ferret out even a small amount of waste that becomes "symbolic"... might send a message to the voters that the Legislature is trying.

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About John Myers

John Myers is Sacramento Bureau Chief for KQED Public Radio and "The California Report," heard daily on 23 public radio stations across the Golden State.

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