Voters will determine the fate of 223 state propositions across the country on Tuesday, and according to a Brigham Young University expert on the initiative process, most voters will be ill-informed and heavily influenced by special interest groups.
As many as one in four voters will misunderstand their state propositions entirely and will cast votes that are inconsistent with their own beliefs, says David B. Magleby, a pollster and researcher on the initiative process. Magleby says the process itself confuses voters, and the information they receive is too complex.In California, for example, residents will vote on 28 issues, including the Big Green environmental proposition, which contains more than 16,000 words.
"Most voters won't use the state's 250-page voter information pamphlet, because it is too long and complicated. They will make up their minds based on television advertising, 30- and 60-second spots," he says.
"This is alarming, because the initiative process isn't easily distilled - it becomes highly emotional and easily distorted on television."
Magleby says when voters are confused or undecided, they tend to vote "no" on initiatives.
On Nov. 6, nine states, including Utah, will vote on tax initiatives; three others will vote on abortion. Three states will consider environmental propositions, including Big Green, which would restrict pesticide use, limit off-shore oil drilling and reduce vehicle emissions.
Magleby says although the initiative was once hailed as a grassroots movement, it is now driven primarily by special interest groups.
"In 1990, as in recent years, the stakes are high on many of these measures, and the campaign expenses show it.
"For example, some estimate that as much as $20 million will be spent by the agricultural and chemical opponents to defeat the Big Green measure in California and to discourage others from trying it elsewhere."
Although the initiative process may not be a true grassroots movement and is in some ways flawed, the 23 states that allow initiatives regard it as a good measure of public opinion.
"I think the initiative is a very important safety valve that allows voters to let off steam. It is an expressive form of politics - that is one of its strengths."