California Journal of Politics and Policy
(CJPP) is an online journal of original scholarship, focusing on state and
local politics, public policy formation and implementation, especially in the Golden
Volume 9, Issue 2, 2017
An introduction to this Special Issue of CJPP focused on some of the issues central to democracy in California.
In 2010, California’s voters responded to the state legislature’s increasing delays in passing abudget by voting to shift the state budget requirement to a simple majority from a supermajority.For Republican voters, this risked the relevance of the state party in the legislature; nevertheless,in a sample drawn from before the election, many Republicans do not adopt the party line of opposingthe measure. Republican voters are more likely to engage in accountability through institutionalreform rather than accountability through punishing their party’s candidate for governor;in this sample, more Republicans explicitly support their own candidate than oppose the measurereducing their legislative leverage.
By a large margin, Californians passed the English Proficiency, Multilingual Education Initiativein November 2016, despite the fact that Proposition 58 gutted Proposition 227, which effectivelyended bilingual education in 1998. We conclude that it would be simplistic to call thismassive change in policy a result that the “times had changed,” either demographically or evenin terms of underlying attitudes toward language. Instead, the victory of Prop 58 seems due inlarge part to political strategy rather than a radical shift in the electorate. The proportions of Latinoand Asian registered voters have certainly increased over the last decade and a half, as hasthe proportion of liberal Democrats. Nevertheless, there is a limit to what these demography-asdestinyaccounts can explain. Instead, using survey experiments in three California-wide surveys,we show that underlying attitudes about teaching the English language have been relatively stable,and that many voters supported Prop 58 without being aware that it reinstated bilingual education.When this was made clear, voters changed their positions, particularly among whites andconservatives. What was salient were the first two words on the ballot label, “English Proficiency”and this is an almost universally accepted goal.
Millions of California voters regularly turn out in November but abstain from primary elections.A randomized Get Out the Vote experiment conducted in the state’s 2014 primary contestshows that this dormant electorate can be mobilized if campaigns target these unlikely voters.Here, we extend these findings to examine whether the electoral context of the district shapes theeffectiveness of a primary mobilization effort. To do so, we develop two conceptualizations ofcampaign context. The first is based on a district’s typical level of competitiveness. The secondlooks at total spending levels in the current campaign. Theories of voter information processingpredict differential responsiveness by voters to mobilization efforts in these different contexts.To test these predictions, we analyze a field experiment that sends direct mail to 149,596 registeredlow-propensity California voters. Consistent with theory, we find that voter mobilizationmailings have different effects in these two distinct contexts. Although mobilization efforts alwaysincrease turnout, in districts that are typically competitive we find that mobilization effortsare more effective. In contrast, in districts that saw large amounts of spending in the 2014 race,the same treatments are less effective. This suggests that a campaign looking for the largest marginalreturn should target races that have been competitive in prior races but that are receivinglittle attention in the present contest.
The question of how to best convert nonvoters into voters is one that continues to plague civicorganizations and political campaigns. Many feel that distrust and anger toward governmentmust be part of what keeps voters from participating, since trust is low and turnout is low. Wetest this idea using data from statewide surveys conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California(PPIC). The results suggest that nonvoters are actually somewhat more trusting of government,even independent of political interest. This finding is not robust to further statisticalcontrols, but no analysis suggests that higher trust is associated with higher turnout. This suggestsrethinking strategies for drawing these non-voters more consistently into the electorate.
California's 2014 Ballot Initiative Transparency Act (BITA) and its Impact on Public Involvement in the Ballot Initiative Process
About half the states in the U.S. now provide a ballot initiative process to voters as a form ofdirect democracy. Citizens are provided the opportunity to vote on proposed laws or constitutionalamendments, which are written and proposed by members of the public. Most studies examiningthe impact of ballot initiatives have focused on the changes in public policy that occuras a result of this form of direct voter engagement. In recent years, however, scholars have begunto examine these questions from a different angle, measuring the scope and depth of civicengagement generated by ballot initiatives. Our study examines the kind of public engagementthat takes place early in the ballot initiative process, before propositions actually make it to theballot, utilizing California’s recent reforms to the ballot initiative process as an empirical case.Employing a multi-method approach, we analyze how California’s Ballot Initiative TransparencyAct of 2014 impacted public involvement in the ballot initiative process. This law was designedto make this process more transparent while encouraging greater public participation in ballotinitiatives before they are approved for the ballot. We seek to understand whether this reformhas led to greater public engagement in the ballot initiative process, and greater public input intoCalifornia state policy.