Over the past year an increasing number of individuals, civic organizations, foundations, media commentators and others in California have been advocating making fundamental changes to the way state government operates. Some have proposed convening a constitutional convention that would bring together hundreds of delegates to re-write the state constitution. Others are supporting efforts to establish a revision commission to do the work of constitutional reform. The number of issues that could potentially be addressed by constitutional reform are wide-ranging, but ultimately all would need voter approval before they can be enacted.
A new statewide survey conducted by The Field Poll, with major funding provided by Next 10, examines voter opinions about constitutional reform and a number of reform proposals. The results indicate that a majority sees the need for making fundamental changes to the state constitution and would support calling a constitutional convention to develop the reform proposals. A broad range of voters also express an interest in participating as a delegate to such a convention, if selected.
However, many of the reform proposals that have been proffered by reform advocates are not widely supported by the voting public. For example, by a 52% to 43% margin Californians disapprove of the idea of changing the current two-thirds vote requirement of the legislature to pass a state budget to a simple majority. Majorities also reject amending Proposition 13 to allow the state legislature to increase taxes by a simple majority vote (69%) or to create a split roll property tax system that would tax commercial property at a higher rate than residential property (52%).
In addition, there is relatively little voter support for two recommendations recently put forward by the state-appointed Commission on the 21st Century Economy that call for flattening state personal income tax rates and changing the way California businesses are taxed.
Voters are supportive of two proposed changes to the state’s initiative process – increasing the vote requirement needed to approve amendments to the state constitution from a simple majority vote to a two-thirds vote (56%) and requiring initiative sponsors to identify funding sources or areas of the budget to be cut when submitting initiatives that call for additional spending (75%).
These are the top-line findings from the latest Field Poll about constitution reform completed among 1,005 California voters in early October.
Questions included in the survey were developed collaboratively between The Field Poll and a committee of distinguished political scientists representing the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University, and the Center for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento, who are also hosting a day-long conference on constitutional reform today, October 14, at the Sacramento Convention Center. Findings from the survey will be presented at the conference. In order to include this series on its latest survey, The Field Poll received funding from conference organizers, as well as from Next 10, an independent, non-partisan organization whose mission is to educate, engage and empower Californians to improve the state’s future.
Below is a summary of the survey’s findings:
- By a 51% to 38% margin voters believe that “fundamental change” needs to be made to the state constitution. Voters who pay a great deal of attention to California government and politics are more inclined than others to feel this way.
- More voters favor changing the state constitution through a deliberative process with proposals submitted to voters as a package (49%) than through separate initiatives that would be placed on the ballot one at a time (40%).
- A 51% to 39% majority prefers a constitutional convention over a revision commission to develop the reform proposals. Although pluralities of voters across all parties prefer a constitutional convention, Republicans are more likely to say this and favor it over a revision commission more than two to one.
- When asked who should serve as delegates to a constitutional convention, greater than six in ten voters (63%) favor including a wide range of individuals – appointed experts, elected delegates and everyday citizens – rather than only one or the other of these groups.
- Most voters say they would either be very likely (32%) or somewhat likely (30%) to serve as a convention delegate if selected and paid under the terms now being considered by convention organizers. This includes paying delegates $50,000 for up to six months of full-time work away from home. Stated interest in serving as a delegate spans all demographic subgroups of the voting population. Release #2316 Page 3 Wednesday, October 14, 2007
- By a 59% to 33% margin voters think that constitutional reform deliberations should be limited to matters relating to the way government operates rather than including social issues like same-sex marriage.
- However, voters take a different view when asked whether illegal immigration should be included in constitutional reform deliberations. By a 48% to 42% margin, more voters support addressing illegal immigration in these discussions than favor limiting them only to matters relating to government operations.
- Only small proportions of voters favor either of the two recent tax reform recommendations put forward by the state-appointed Commission on the 21st Century Economy. The first proposal, which would flatten state personal income tax rates as a way to counter the big year-to-year swings in taxes collected, is favored by just 23% and 32%, depending on how the proposal is described. The second proposal, which would replace the corporate income tax and state sales tax with a new net receipts tax that would apply to a far broader range of California businesses than is currently covered by the sales tax, receives the support of only 23% of voters.
- Most voters (52%) oppose changing the current two-thirds legislative vote requirement to pass a state budget with a simple majority vote. This compares to 43% who favor making this change. While small pluralities of Democrats and non-partisans support making the change, Republicans oppose this idea nearly three to one.
- Voters are about evenly split over a proposal to impose a strict cap on the amount the state government can spend each year, with 48% approving and 45% disapproving. There are big differences of opinion about this by party.
- There is strong opposition (69% to 27%) to the idea of amending Proposition 13 to allow the state legislature to increase taxes with a simple majority vote.
- A 52% to 37% majority also opposes amending Prop. 13 to tax commercial property at a higher rate than residential property. More voters now oppose the idea of a split roll property tax than have done so in previous Field Poll surveys dating back to 1981.
- Most voters (56%) support the idea of increasing the vote requirements needed to approve amendments to the state constitution from a simple majority to a two-thirds majority vote of the people in an election.
- There is broad-based public support (75%) for requiring initiative sponsors to identify funding sources or areas of the budget to be cut when submitting new initiatives that call for additional spending.
- By a 57% to 37% margin voters believe the state can provide about the same level of services by simply eliminating waste and inefficiencies, even if its budget had to be cut by billions of dollars.
- More voters believe that the state’s term limits law has helped (51%) rather than hurt (38%) state government.
- By a 49% to 35% margin voters disapprove of the idea to consolidate the 40-member State Senate and the 80-member State Assembly into a single 120-person legislative body.