Poll Gives Edge to Consumer, Lawyer Ballot Measures

Times Staff Writer

A new California Field Poll indicates that two insurance ballot initiatives reflecting trial lawyer and consumer views, Propositions 100 and 103, are winning, while two insurer-sponsored initiatives, Propositions 101 and 104, are losing.

The poll results encouraged the lawyer and consumer sides Wednesday but were challenged by the insurers.

The poll of 773 registered California voters had Proposition 103, backed by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, winning as much as 74% of the vote, while Proposition 104, the insurers’ no-fault initiative, was getting as little as 28%.

It also indicated that Proposition 106, an insurer-sponsored initiative to slash lawyers’ contingency fees, has lost support since August and may be more vulnerable to defeat than many political experts had originally thought.


The coordinator of the insurance industry’s campaigns for Propositions 104 and 106, Clint Reilly, issued two angry statements suggesting in one that pollster Mervin Field is “not a professional.” Reilly cited polls taken by his own organization and by independent pollster Steve Teichner as proof that Field’s polls paint too rosy a picture for Propositions 100 and 103 and too negative a one for his own measures.

Field responded that Reilly’s statements were “intemperate,” but he conceded that it may be too early to read much into poll results in the volatile initiative contests.

Taking note of the fact that Nader’s campaign has reported having little money, while the insurers have budgeted $43 million, Field declared:

“If there’s going to be a campaign to defeat (Proposition) 103, then it’s highly likely that’s going to succeed, given the money. . . . In fact, I can see them all going down if they all become targets for any kind of a campaign, particularly as the public comes into the decision zone.”


However, the Field poll in past California campaigns has often had an influence on campaign strategy, and there was immediate speculation that its continued showing that the no-fault initiative is in trouble might influence Reilly and the insurers to re-focus their efforts more on defeating Propositions 100 and 103 and less on seeking support for no-fault.

Dick Woodward, manager of the Proposition 100 campaign, said: “I think basically what Field means is that the consumer initiatives, (Propositions) 100 and 103, are in far better shape than the insurers’ initiatives. . . . The $43 million the insurers are spending for the results they’re getting would require some re-examination (by them).”

A spokesman for Reilly denied that the insurance industry campaign focus is changing, saying he had put on $700,000 in advertising for no-fault just in the last week.

Claim Radical Elements


But outside Los Angeles, the insurers have just begun airing a television commercial which, more than any commercial yet, tries to tie the Nader campaign to radical elements.

Labeling Harvey Rosenfield, the chairman of the campaign, a “Santa Monica activist,” the commercial shows him “dumping manure” and holding a press conference “with gun-toting associates,” and states, “Harvey knows how to get press, but does he know how to write an auto insurance initiative?”

Rosenfield responded that the commercial is “a desperation move. Their campaign has moved from gross distortions and lies to a personal attack on the people who are supporting reform.”

The Field poll did indicate that Proposition 100, financed primarily by the California Trial Lawyers Assn., has lost support in the last six weeks, although the poll said it still commands a majority.


Woodward, speaking for the Proposition 100 campaign, said: “We’re not surprised at any of this. A massive amount of dollars have been spent against us recently, and we were not on the air during this period. . . . Most of the people who have left us have gone to undecided, and we intend to recapture a portion of them.”

More May Be Spent

Another possibility raised by the poll results is that more money may be spent by both sides on Proposition 106. The trial lawyers may now feel that they can beat it, while the insurers may view it as more winable than Proposition 104. “We’re delighted with the (poll) results on (Proposition) 106,” Woodward said.

Reilly, meanwhile, said his own polls show Proposition 104, the no-fault initiative, winning at this point by 37% to 33%, with 30% undecided, while they show Nader’s Proposition 103 winning 37% to 32% with 31% undecided, and the trial lawyers’ Proposition 100 losing 26% to 41% with 32% undecided.


The way Reilly asked the questions, however, may have shaped the results. His questions, for instance, failed to mention that Propositions 100 and 103 call for insurance rate rollbacks.

More than one initiative could pass, since voters can vote for as many as they like.

VOTER PREFERENCE ON INSURANCE INITIATIVES A telephone survey by the California Field Poll on voter preference on the five different auto insurance initiatives changed--one moving up, the others moving down--after sponsorship of each initiative was disclosed. The initiative descriptions are abbreviated from what pollsters used to question 773 potential voters in mid-September. Prop. 100 Would reduce auto rates for good drivers 20%; establishes state regulation for future increases. (Sponsors: California Trial Lawyers; state Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp; consumer groups.) Sponsorship Not Disclosed Yes: 56% No: 17% Undecided: 27% After Disclosure Yes: 54% No: 22% Undecided: 24% Prop. 101 Would reduce bodily injury portion of insurance rates by 50% and place limits on injury claims for pain and suffering. (Sponsors: Assemblyman Richard Polanco, insurance executive Harry Miller.) Sponsorship Not Disclosed Yes: 35% No: 32% Undecided: 33% After Disclosure Yes: 32% No: 38% Undecided: 30% Prop. 103 Would lower auto rates by 20% for one year and require that future rate increases be approved by an elected insurance commissioner. (Sponsors: consumers groups, Ralph Nader.) Sponsorship Not Disclosed Yes: 62% No: 16% Undecided: 22% After Disclosure Yes: 74% No: 12% Undecided: 14% Prop. 104 Would establish no-fault insurance and allow accident victims to file lawsuits only in limited circumstances. (Sponsored by California insurance companies.) Sponsorship Not Disclosed Yes: 31% No: 40% Undecided: 29% After Disclosure Yes: 28% No: 50% Undecided: 22% Prop. 106 Would place limits on attorney contingency fees. (Sponsored by California insurance companies.) Sponsorship Not Disclosed Yes: 59% No: 24% Undecided: 17% After Disclosure Yes: 49% No: 31% Undecided: 20% Source: California Field Poll