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Poll: Support for lighter sentences, but not 2 healthcare measures

Voters strongly back a ballot measure to soften penalties for certain drug and theft crimes, but two healthcare initiatives face much stiffer opposition, a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll shows.

The healthcare-related measures, Propositions 45 and 46, have faced an onslaught of negative advertising from well-financed opposition campaigns, damaging their prospects at the ballot box Tuesday.

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"When you get outspent by tens of millions of dollars, you tend to lose elections," said Drew Lieberman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, the Democratic half of the bipartisan polling team.

Proposition 45, which would give the state insurance commissioner final say over some health insurance rates, is backed by only 36% of likely voters; 46% said they would vote no.

Opponents have a similar edge on Proposition 46, which would raise the state's decades-old limit on certain medical malpractice damages. The multi-pronged measure would also require hospitals to test their physicians for drugs and alcohol and have doctors check a statewide drug database before prescribing controlled medications.

The measure is supported by 37% of likely voters; 48% oppose it.

Republican pollster Dave Kanevsky of American Viewpoint said the sense of a need to change the prison system explains the wide margin of support for Proposition 47, the crime-sentencing measure.

The survey found 56% of likely voters back the initiative; 27% oppose it.

The measure would reclassify possession of most drugs, including cocaine and heroin, from potential felonies to misdemeanors. It also would make shoplifting, petty theft, forgery and writing bad checks a misdemeanor when the offenses involve $950 or less.

Barry Robertson, a voter unaffiliated with a party who typically votes for Democrats, said he backs the measure because he believes it will reduce law enforcement costs.

Incarcerating people for minor drug crimes "is just a big waste of money," said Robertson, 61, who lives in Sunland. The state "can't even put the people that really belong in jail" behind bars because of overcrowding, he said.

Joanne Tyler, a Republican from Covina, said she'll vote no on Proposition 47.

"If you do the crime, you need to do the time — plain and simple," said Tyler, 69.

The USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times poll of 1,537 registered California voters was conducted by telephone Oct. 22 through 29. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points overall and 3.3 points for likely voters. The poll did not include Proposition 48, a referendum related to a casino project in California's Central Valley.

Twitter: @melmason

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