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Related Categories: California | Government & Elections
Propositions Won or Lost because of Money, Media, and Meaning, Solutions 2021 are Needed
by Laura Wells
Sunday Dec 27th, 2020 12:32 PM
California delivered a landslide for a Democratic president, and yet gave majorities to Republican positions on state propositions. Why?
Why was there a landslide for the Democratic presidential candidate, and yet majority votes for Republican positions on California’s propositions? In my November blog email I asked that question, and received 60-some thought-provoking responses.

People agreed that many voters were focused on the presidential race — and pretty clear about their preferences — and not focused much on other ballot items including propositions.

The reasons for the proposition results could be summed up as Money, Media, and Meaning — which are all interrelated, as everything is, problems and solutions, ecology and economy, everyone and everything.

MONEY. According to preliminary data, the winning side spent more money than the losing side in 9 out of 12 propositions. Prop 22 saw Uber, DoorDash, Lyft and others outspend their opposition 10 times over, spending more than $200 million to convince people Prop 22 was great for drivers. Regarding Prop 23 about dialysis clinics, the winning side also spent 10 times more. Regarding the closest votes — stem cell research, taxing commercial properties, and changing some property tax rules (Props 14, 15, and 19 respectively) — money won.

MEDIA. Responders pointed out that "media are a major, routinely underrated factor." And it’s not just the paid ads that are everywhere, including, increasingly, the internet, it’s the regular news. A story from my own experience. In 2010 right after the global financial melt-down, I ran as a Green Party candidate for Governor to bring the message of "follow the money, tax the rich, and implement public banking" to California. Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman were also running. Whitman was an eBay billionaire who spent between $140 and $170 million of her own money in the race. I realized that if I were given the choice between getting that much money in my own campaign coffers, or getting the news coverage and debate time she got for free, I would take the news and the debates! People would see Greens as viable candidates and we would talk about viable solutions. What a delight that would be.

MEANING. Many people spoke of the difficulty of dealing with a dozen propositions that are both hard to understand at face value, and even harder to understand how they would be implemented. There were bills that even endorsers with similar values endorsed differently, because the propositions had some good parts and some bad. People tend toward "no" — in other words "no change" — if they don’t understand a proposition. When we move toward a real grassroots democracy, we can implement Citizens’ Initiative Reviews and other citizen assemblies composed of regular people who study the issues and review or even create proposals.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Marsha Feinland of the Peace and Freedom Party for her presentation on state propositions, including her informative chart on how much money was spent
Colors: RED means Republican endorsements won; ORANGE means money won
(na): Endorsement was neutral, or no position
Dash: In the money column means under $100,000, far less than a million dollars


My January 2021 blog will be about what the Biden administration can do, with NO EXCUSES and NO HONEYMOON. Many crucial steps can be taken in the first 100 days. The worst pandemic of our lives is happening now, alongside a depressed economy and threatened planet.

My list includes expanded and improved Medicare for All, sane climate policy, universal basic income, debt-free education, community policing, whistleblower protection, public banking, and elimination of blockades and sanctions against other countries. I can hear people asking, "How do we pay for all that?" I would say, let's consider how expensive the current policies are, in healthcare, the environment, the economy, criminal justice, and our foreign policy and the military.

I would love to read in the comments your list of what we should push — and push and push — for in 2021.
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