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Newsletter: Record-setting Proposition 22 could end up a nail-biter

A car window with Uber and Lyft signs
Proposition 22 would spare companies such as Uber and Lyft from paying drivers for full benefits that employees receive.
(Associated Press)

Other than the race for president, the political battle over California’s Proposition 22 and its rules governing drivers for companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash could end up being the most expensive campaign in the nation.

Led by money from a consortium of app-based companies, total contributions have surged past $218 million, the most cash raised for any ballot measure campaign in California history. Even the cash spent on this year’s heated U.S. Senate contests pales in comparison.

One astounding statistic: The campaign in support of Proposition 22 spent an average of $628,854 a day from Jan. 1 through mid-October. In any given month, that ends up being more money than an entire election cycle of fundraising in 49 of California’s 53 House races.

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The Yes on Proposition 22 campaign has outspent opponents by almost 10 to 1 in the fight to determine whether drivers for the companies are independent contractors or subject to existing California law, which courts have ruled require the drivers to be employees of the companies.

A new poll shows this could be a nail-biter of a race.

Prop. 22: 46% yes, 42% no

The survey, released Monday by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, found that 46% of likely voters said they’ll vote (or have already voted) to support the proposal written by the app-based companies, allowing drivers to remain as independent contractors but offering them new wage guarantees and benefits — albeit less generous than those the drivers would receive if classified as employees.

Forty-two percent of likely voters surveyed said they oppose Proposition 22. The ranks of the undecided — now 12% of those surveyed — have dropped sharply since last month, with almost equal numbers in this poll going to the “yes” and “no” sides of the issue.

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“I think voters are having a hard time with this one,” pollster Mark DiCamillo said.

Results from the online poll of 5,352 likely voters suggest the battle down the home stretch of the campaign may come down to unaffiliated independents and voters who live in Los Angeles (both subgroups were divided at 44% yes, 45% no); voters in their 40s (44% yes, 43% no); and Latinos (43% yes, 44% no).

One other interesting result: Young voters are strongly opposed to giving the app-based companies special rules, with 55% of those under the age of 29 opposed to the measure.

Prop. 15 on the edge; Props. 16 and 21 likely to come up short

Three other ballot measures were polled by the Berkeley IGS team: Proposition 15, the effort to increase some commercial property taxes; Proposition 16, seeking reinstatement of affirmative action policies; and Proposition 21, a plan to expand rent control to more communities.

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Proposition 15, the attempt to scale back the sweeping tax rules under the iconic Proposition 13, remains with support from 49% of those surveyed, the same as it was in mid-September. But as the number of undecided voters has dropped, the size of the opposition has risen.

DiCamillo believes the conventional wisdom — that a California ballot measure under 50% at this point in the game can’t win — might not apply in an election where voters have been preoccupied with the pandemic and the presidential race.

But the poll shows there’s probably too steep a hill to climb in the remaining days for the affirmative action measure, Proposition 16 (38% yes, 49% no), and the proposal to expand rent control, Proposition 21 (37% yes, 48% no). Self-described moderate voters oppose Proposition 16 by 23 percentage points, while 61% of homeowners oppose Proposition 21.

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The virus (again) takes center stage

President Trump‘s attempts to focus voter attention somewhere other than COVID-19 ran headfirst into his own White House over the weekend.

On Saturday, officials announced that top aides to Vice President Mike Pence tested positive for the coronavirus. And on Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows seemed to suggest in a television interview that there was nothing more to be done to stop the spread of the virus.

With election day closing in, the president is battling two opponents: Joe Biden and the coronavirus.

Trump and Biden hit the nation’s battleground states over the weekend, trading barbs and offering a clear contrast to the sliver of still undecided voters. And seemingly every American now understands the importance of who wins. My colleague Janet Hook’s story sums it up quite nicely:

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“Whatever else the consequences of his presidency are, Trump — love him or loathe him — has catalyzed a surge of political engagement. The intense polarization of the Trump era has strained Americans’ ability to live peaceably with their neighbors, but it’s also spurred people to participate as never before.”

National lightning round

— The nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled for a final, contentious, vote on Monday. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced Saturday she will vote to confirm Barrett.

— North Carolina has been swamped with a staggering 7,000 political ads a day, more than any other state. The cost — $500 million and rising — tops every state except California.

— The practice of threatening access to the ballot — often affecting Black and Latino voters — has resurfaced in 2020, this time buttressed by a record-setting wave of litigation and an embattled president whose reelection campaign seems built on a strategy of sowing doubt and confusion.

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— Biden’s debate remark about a transition away from oil generated glee from Republicans. It also illustrates why climate politics are hard.

— In the year and a half since Sen. Kamala Harris launched her presidential campaign, the problems she wants to help solve — poverty, racial inequities, climate change, civil discord — have inched closer to her exclusive Los Angeles neighborhood. Be sure to check out the hometowns of the rest of the candidates in The Times’ special series.

Today’s essential California politics

— Faced with a deluge of fraudulent unemployment claims, California officials said 350,000 of the debit cards they issued containing benefits have been frozen because of suspicious activity.

— The race for the 21st Congressional District should be labeled “parental discretion advised” for political ugliness, pitting Democratic Rep. T.J. Cox against his Republican challenger, former Rep. David Valadao.

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— A Sacramento judge refused to order the California Republican Party to disclose information about its ballot drop box program, rejecting an argument by Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra that the investigation was essential to ensuring ballots are being properly handled.

— With Proposition 17, Californians will decide whether to allow nearly 50,000 people convicted of felonies who are on parole to vote in future elections, an issue that has divided the state’s leaders along party lines.

— Longtime adversaries are clashing once again over changes to California’s criminal justice system, with a group representing sheriffs endorsing Proposition 20, while former Gov. Jerry Brown is attacking the initiative in television ads.

— California voters will again weigh in on a costly ballot-box fight between a healthcare union and the dialysis industry, with both sides saying the care of 80,000 people will be affected by Proposition 23.

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— Supporters of a coming ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products in California asked the state attorney general to investigate complaints that people gathering signatures for a referendum to overturn the law have misrepresented the effort.

— Facing two new accusations of sexual misconduct, Rick Jacobs, a top political advisor to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, said he will “take a leave” from his work amid increasing questions about the allegations.

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