If there was ever any question that the results of California's May 19 special election will be driven by raw emotion rather than rational voter behavior, yesterday's PPIC poll provides the final answer.
Most of the voter sentiment captured in the survey is unsurprising, given the sour economy, frustration over the state's chronic budget nightmares and anger over the recently enacted tax increases.
So it's easy to understand such findings as: 68 percent of Californians believe the state is headed in the wrong direction, 67 percent believe bad economic times are in store for the next 12 months, 47 percent are concerned that they or one of their family members will soon lose their job, and that majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents disapprove of the performance of both Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature.
In that sort of environment, it's probably an impossible task for state leaders to put before voters a complex set of ballot measures and say, "Trust us, this is what we need to fix the state budget problems."
Still, one of the poll's findings shows that some voters have allowed blind anger to overwhelm rational thought.
Consider Proposition 1D. It asks voters to authorize diverting tobacco tax money that is now set aside exclusively to fund early childhood development services, such as preschool and preventive healthcare. Under 1D, the money could be used instead to help fund general government services, such as operating schools, universities and prisons.
The tobacco tax was put into the books in 1998, the result of an initiative spearheaded by liberal Hollywood activist Rob Reiner. It carried the state by just 1 percent of the vote, and was defeated in nearly every Republican-leaning county in the state (Ventura County being an exception; it passed in Ventura County 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent).
For years in the Legislature, Republican lawmakers have complained that the revenues from Proposition 10 are being hoarded by independent county commissions, in some cases mismanaged, and in other cases being spent on frivilous programs of dubious merit. GOP legislators have said that, rather than even think of raising taxes, the state should try to get its hands on some of that Proposition 10 tobacco tax money.
As part of the February budget deal, Republican lawmakers got what they'd been asking for. Now all it will take to make it happen is an affirmative vote on Proposition 1D.
So what does the poll show? It shows that a majority (54 percent) of Democrats, who have long supported the idea of government-run preschool and other early-childhood interventions, are willing to vote yes and suspend much of the financing for these programs so that the state can use the money instead to pay for more traditional government services.
And what about Republicans, who never much liked Prop. 10 in the first place? A majority (56 percent) say they intend to vote no on Proposition 1D.
The state Republican Party, is its blind rage over the budget deal and tax increases, voted to oppose all the ballot measures. But individual conservatives such as Sen. Tony Strickland and his predecessor Tom McClintock have taken a more discriminating approach. While they oppose Proposition 1A, which is the source of conservative Republicans' ire over the ballot measures, they support 1D.
At this point, it appears a majority of Republican voters are going to go with the blind-rage approach.