Poll Analysis: Voters Reject Vouchers While Supporting Lower Vote Passage Of School Bond Issues

     With less than two weeks to go before the November 7th election, a strong two-thirds majority of California likely voters indicated they are ready to give a big thumbs-down to another sweeping school voucher initiative while at the same time there is an indication that they will support a drop in the minimum vote needed to pass school bonds.

Proposition 38: School Vouchers Initiative
     If passed, Proposition 38 would provide a $4000 taxpayer-funded voucher to each school-age child in California which could be used to fund that child's education at their parent's choice of a private or religious school. Proponents of this legislation contend that vouchers will force public schools to improve in order to avoid losing student funding.
     Proposition 174, a similar initiative on the ballot in November 1993, was rejected by a decisive 70% majority of voters. The latest survey by the Los Angeles Times Poll found that voting Californians haven't warmed toward the idea over the last seven years. Two thirds of likely voters surveyed said they are against the current measure, while 27% are for it and 7% weren't sure.
     Awareness of the voucher initiative is high, whether driven by the vigorous negative ad campaigns being waged by both sides, by the visibility given the voucher idea by the Presidential candidate debate on the issues, by the concern over the state of public education, or by a combination of those things. When read only the title of the initiative and asked where they stand on the issue, 55% of likely voters said they opposed it, 28% were for it, and only 17% weren't sure. This is a very low percentage of uninformed voters for a ballot initiative. (For example, a whopping 53% of likely voters weren't sure where they stood on Proposition 39 before they were read the ballot language.)
     One interesting finding was that Republican voters changed their mind on the issue when they were read the actual ballot description. When given just the title (which includes the word "vouchers"), a plurality of GOP likely voters said they supported the measure by 48% to 42% with 10% unsure. After being read the ballot language, support changed to opposition with 50% now voting against, 44% for, and 6% remaining undecided.
     Education is a big issue in this state-it garnered top mention on the list of problems that California likely voters think is most important for the next President to address. They were also largely in agreement that the state's public schools are in sorry condition. Nearly three in four ranked the state's public schools as "only fair" or "poor". When asked to rate their own local public schools voters were less condemnatory, but a 54% majority still assigned one of the two lowest ratings.
     However questionable they may find the current state of public education in California, the survey indicates that voters are not looking to vouchers for an answer. Support for the proposal increases only slightly among voters who rank their local schools lowest.
         21% support and 72% oppose among those who ranked their local schools "excellent" or "good".
         31% support and 61% oppose among those who ranked schools "fair" or "poor".

     Indeed, the opposition to the voucher plan is broad-based, including majorities of likely voters across all age groups, educational levels, gender, and incomes.
     Party ideology is one of the only demographics in which a wide difference of opinion can be detected. A coalition of moderates and liberals (79% and 76% opposed, respectively) are driving the measure down, while conservatives are splitting the vote 46% for to 47% against. Only conservative Republicans can garner a bare majority of their support for the initiative-51% would vote "yes"-but even among this group, more than four in ten said they would give the proposition a thumbs-down.
     Another telling difference of opinion was found among parents with children in private school-a majority of that upscale group (a majority have household incomes over $60K) support the voucher proposition. This contrasts with the 67% of parents of public school children who oppose the measure (25% support it and 8% aren't sure.)

Proposition 39: Fifty-Five Percent
Local Vote For Bonds
     Likely voters are supportive of a ballot initiative which is intended to ease the passage of school bonds by a wide 23 percentage point margin (55% to 32%) and 13% remain undecided. Proposition 39 would lower the vote percentage required to pass school bond issues from a two-thirds majority to 55%.
     In a state where the legacy of anti-tax crusader Howard Jarvis lives on and with two weeks to go before the vote, passage is not guaranteed for this initiative which makes it easier to pass bond issues funded largely through property tax increases. With only one in eight likely voters still undecided, support seems to be firming up. Other recent polls measured support for the initiative at around 50% about two weeks ago. If this measure passes, it will be a turnaround from the recent narrow-margin rejection by primary voters of a similar measure (which asked for a simple majority) last March.
     As with the voucher initiative, the survey found an inadvertent coalition of self-described liberals and moderates prevailing over a smaller group of differently-minded conservatives. More than six out of 10 moderate and liberal likely voters support lowering the threshold while conservatives are split 44% to 43%. Even the most traditionally tax-opposed (conservative Republicans) show only a small plurality of opposition-47% would vote no, vs. 41% who would vote yes.      Other concentrations of slightly higher opposition can be found among older likely voters and those who think the country is off on the wrong track.
         Four in 10 of those 65 and older oppose the measure, vs. 43% who support it and 11% who are unsure.
         Younger voters are firmly supportive-68% of those under 45 support it vs. 19% oppose. Thirteen percent are not sure.

     In addition, while Republicans overall show a slight plurality of support for the measure 47% to 41%, there is a gender gap in the party, with 47% of GOP men voting against and 50% of GOP women supporting the measure. Democrats have no such gap in their ranks, presenting a united front of 60% to 26%.

Proposition 36: Drug Treatment Program
     The Times Poll also tested Proposition 36, a measure which would require probation and drug treatment plans rather than incarceration for persons caught with controlled substances. This is not a high-profile measure by any means. When read only the title, a whopping 75% of likely voters weren't sure how they would vote on the initiative. After being read the ballot language, however, voters came down on the side of support with 54% saying they would vote yes, 28% no and 18% undecided.
     California likely voters have strong opinions on the subject of treatment over incarceration in general, the survey found. Fifty percent strongly agreed with the statement "The money spent on the war on drugs is misplaced. More money should be spent on prevention, and treatment of people who are addicted to drugs, rather than spending money on sending them to prison." Another 23% agreed less strongly while 18% were opposed.
     Not too surprisingly, support and opposition were strongest among voters who differed on that question. Two-thirds of those who agreed with the statement are inclined to vote "Yes" on Proposition 36. Nearly the same proportion (62%) of those who disagree are inclined to vote "No".
     The survey found support for the treatment initiative to be fairly broad based. Conservative Republicans mustered a small plurality of opposition-37% to 43% but a large 20% were not sure. Republicans overall were almost split 42% yes to 39% no with 19% undecided, compared to Democrats at 58% yes, 23% no, and 19% not sure.

How the Poll Was Conducted
     The Times Poll contacted 1,304 registered voters statewide, including 852 voters most likely to vote, by telephone Oct. 19-23, 2000. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the state. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and non-listed numbers could be contacted. The entire sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education, region and registration. The margin of sampling error for likely voters is plus or minus 4 percentage points. For certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. The poll was conducted in English and Spanish.