As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Message Received v. Message Assumed

Robert Cruickshank notes that the special election is in major trouble, with none of the five budget measures over 40% in the latest Field Poll. Cruickshank's advice ought to be taken by leading Democrats:

However, the overall numbers suggest that Republicans may be more likely to vote in this election, hence the seemingly likely failure of the first five. Democrats more strongly oppose Prop 1C, which as you know is the only one that makes any difference on May 20. That's not a stance borne of ignorance - 58% of all voters believe that it is unlikely that Prop 1C would significantly increase lottery revenues.

The poll also suggests that the legislature's lying ballot descriptions of Props 1D and 1E are having an impact. The wording in the sample ballot makes it sound like the money in those props is being shifted from one kind of children's and mental health programs to another, when in fact that money is just being dumped into the general fund with no guarantee at all that the money would help kids or the mentally ill. Those who plan to vote yes on 1D and 1E don't know this or don't believe it's true [...]

Democrats are more willing to give their leaders a chance. With Speaker Karen Bass, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, the CTA and nearly every elected Democratic official stumping for the whole package, likely Democratic voters - presumably those more inclined to pay close attention to legislators and CTA's ads - it's not surprising that most of the props hold a narrow lead among Dems (no proposition has higher than 53% support of Dems, aside from 1F). Of course, 1C does not, which gives fuel to the fire of my own "they should focus on 1C" argument - and in any case Democratic voter support for these things is tenuous, not of a large margin, and in the case of 1D and 1E, based on incorrect information.

Even that 53% margin among Democrats would be seen as very tenuous at this stage of an initiative battle. I agree that only 1C means anything to the short-term problem in the budget. The consequences of something like 1A, however, are permanent. Given that no opposition has sprung up around 1C, it makes far more sense to completely turn the message toward that at this point, even though it's in a bigger hole than the other measures. The strategy of combining the measures as a package deal is confusing voters and dooming the entire ballot.

Once again, with the special election likely to crater, what's important is the message received, not the message assumed. The claptrap that a loss on 1A would somehow embolden Republicans neglects the very loud message professed by progressives in this debate, a message which to this point, has basically split the Democratic rank and file, despite the fact that every leader and their mother in the Party support these measures. The establishment/grassroots divide is nothing short of historic, and the message that could be taken away is, simply, we want you to deal with the underlying structural issues, not more of the same failed band-aid solutions. While the oft-cited line in the poll from the Yacht Party will be that "if the budget measures are defeated it would send a message to the governor and the Legislature that voters are tired of more government spending and higher taxes," this is being enabled by a Democratic Party who thinks they are fighting Republican anti-tax forces on this instead of progressives in their own party with which they have a legitimate public policy dispute. Only one set of messages gets expressed in the wider media, because the Democrats have utterly failed in framing the debate properly, leaving us with this false impression.

Even Zed Hollingsworth concurs that Props. 1D and 1E were "Republican ideas" (in truth they all were), and that failure on those measures would mean that the electorate wants those successful First Five and mental health programs to continue untouched. Why the Democratic leadership can't take this message and run with it, and find themselves a mandate to deal with the structural problems, is completely alien to me. The state party passed a resolution supporting a majority vote budget at the recent convention. But its elected officials haven't gotten the message.

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