But a more interesting question, it seems, is why isn't it ahead by more?
The survey just released by the Public Policy Institute of California finds 52% of likely voters support the Brown initiative after being read its official title and summary. 40% say they'd vote against the measure this November.
Not surprisingly, Democrats (71% support) and Republicans (65% oppose) have the strongest reactions to Brown's income/sales tax hike. Independent voters (49% yes, 41% no) are more conflicted.
But what's fascinating is that overall support for the governor's proposal appears to have dropped in just a matter of weeks by an astounding 20 points. PPIC's January survey found 72% support among likely voters.
So what gives?
PPIC pollster Mark Baldassare cautions against a direct comparison of the numbers, because the January poll was done before Brown's initiative had a formal title and summary for his team to read during their telephone surveys. As such, that poll question was shorter and slightly more general, whereas the new poll question hews very closely to the official ballot label (PDF) created by the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris. And so where January's poll question simply said that the tax revenues would go to K-12 schools, the new one also uses the title and summary language about public safety realignment and freeing up dollars for "other spending commitments."
But that's part of what makes comparing the two survey results so interesting. Might the measure's many moving parts be partly to blame for the blasé reaction it got in the new poll?
"The title and summary adds a whole other layer of complexity," says Baldassare.
Even more fascinating in trying to understand why Governor Brown's measure isn't doing better is what Baldassare says may be the political context in which the new poll was conducted. Unlike January, the governor's proposal is now competing for press and public attention with two other income tax raising measures: the millionaires tax authored by the California Federation of Teachers and the generally across-the-board income tax hike for K-12 schools from wealthy activist Molly Munger.
"People sense there's a disagreement," says Baldassare. And perhaps, goes the thinking, they're no longer convinced that Brown's proposal is the best way forward... even if they're not asked about alternative ideas by a pollster.
As Baldassare puts it, "Whenever there are competing ideas, they don't have to even be on the ballot."
If this competition for attention does, in fact, help explain why Governor Brown's tax initiative is now closer to a coin toss than a sure thing... then the question is what can he do about it? Increasing amounts of time, energy, and political muscle are being used to try and keep the rival measures off of the November ballot. But how does Team Brown keep people from thinking about the upsides of those measures when asked to consider the Guv's measure on its merits?
The answer to that question might -- just might -- be at the crux of the entire tax campaign this fall.