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Will Prop. 30 pass? Here’s some historical perspective

Ethan Rarick, director, Matsui Center | September 26, 2012

What’s the likely outcome for Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax increase? That’s the million-dollar question — well, OK, the $6-billion question — for the California political community at the moment.

Prop. 30 is ahead in the most recent IGS/Field Poll, 51-36 with 13 percent undecided. A nearly simultaneous PPIC Poll has remarkably similar numbers, especially on the yes side, at 52-40-8.

The Conventional Wisdom is that the governor is in trouble, because as Election Day approaches, support falls and opposition rises for almost all initiatives. Voters know that a no vote preserves the status quo, so if they are confused about a proposition’s impact, they will reject it.

To test that theory against California history, I looked at the results for all Field Polls on statewide ballot measures during the past 15 years, comparing the poll results to the eventual election outcome. (My thanks to Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo for providing me with the preliminary data.)

Here’s the short version of what I found: For most ballot measures, the Conventional Wisdom is more conventional than wise. There is only a small drop-off in support as Election Day approaches, and measures that are polling at Prop. 30’s level at this point in the election cycle – in the low 50s with a 15-point margin – pass more often than not.

But for measures that would raise taxes, the picture is murkier. The sample is small – people don’t often ask voters to dig deeper into their own pockets. When they do, there is a larger drop-off in support just before the election, but that’s often telegraphed by a declining trend months earlier. Prop. 30, by contrast, has enjoyed remarkable stability.

Here are the details:

To ensure an apples-to-apples comparison, let’s only use Field Polls that were completed at least 30 days, but no more than 80 days, before Election Day.  As a practical matter, that means the poll’s field work was wrapped up in late August, September, or early October, or an equivalent amount of time before a primary or special election. That’s the case with the current poll – interviewing wrapped up Sept. 18, 49 days before the election.

Let’s restrict it even further to measures that had at least 50 percent support in the initial poll – as the governor’s measure does now. Field has polled on 29 ballot measures since 1998 that fall into that category (i.e., a poll conducted 30 to 80 days out showed a yes total of at least 50 percent).

Here are the averages, comparing the relevant poll to the final tally:

Field Poll

Election Outcome














The drop-off in support is actually fairly small. Obviously, the opposition increases sharply, but most of that comes from undecided voters, who averaged 19 percent in the initial poll.

And the bottom line is that most of these measures pass. Of the 29, 18 were approved. Nor do you need to top 50 by much. Of 10 measures that polled between 50 and 52 percent yes, eight were approved. A narrow majority, such as the governor has now, can hold up from September to November.

To get some perspective about Prop. 30’s current margin of 15 points, look at all past propositions with a poll during the 30 to 80 day period, but this time including measures that started below 50 percent support. Seventy measures fit into that category. Of those that began with a lead of at least 15 points, about two-thirds passed (21 out of 32). That 15-point margin seems to be a crucial cut-off. Among those measures that led by less than 15 points or trailed, almost 80 percent failed (30 out of 38). The governor, in other words, doesn’t have much room to work with, but he has a shot.

What about measures that would increase taxes? Is the dynamic different there? Only five measures since 1998 qualify: a successful tobacco tax in 1998, Darrell Steinberg’s successful surcharge on high incomes in 2004 for mental health programs, and a trio of losers in 2006 – an oil severance tax, another tobacco tax, and a high-end surcharge to pay for preschool programs. (The tobacco tax earlier this year is omitted because Field didn’t take a poll in our 30- to 80-day window.)

Here are the averages for tax measures:

Field Poll

Election Outcome















So the typical tax-increase measure was about where Prop. 30 is now, and ended up losing. That could be interpreted as bad news for the governor, but those results are heavily influenced by the trio of measures that failed in 2006, and those measures were already collapsing by this point in the cycle.  That year, Field polled roughly three-and-a-half months before the election, a month-and-a-half out (approximately where we are now), and a week out. Here are the average support levels for the three tax measures:

3 ½ mos. out

1 ½ mos. Out

1 week out

Election Outcome







On average, those failed measures had dropped seven points and fallen below 50 percent by this point in the cycle. Prop. 30, by contrast, has been remarkably stable, polling at 52 percent in late May, 54 in early July, and now 51 in September.

In that way, Prop. 30 is closer to 2004’s Prop. 63, which also showed relatively stable support, polling at 59 in August, 57 in September, 56 with a week to go, and passing with 53.7. (In 1998, the tobacco tax was a little more volatile, polling at 56 in August, 48 in early October, 50 with a week to go, and passing with 50.5.)

Obviously there are a lot of other variables to be considered, such as how much money was spent on both sides of a given initiative, or the initial number of undecided voters, but the quick take-away remains pretty simple: past initiatives that have been polling at roughly Prop. 30’s level at this point in the election have ultimately passed more often than not. That is less true for tax increases, but the fact that Prop. 30’s level of support has held steady bodes well for the governor.

One final note, and it’s bad news for Molly Munger, whose alternative tax increase trailed in the new IGS/Field Poll. Initiatives rarely come from behind. Of 19 measures that initially trailed during the 30- to 80-day window, only three came back to win.

Ethan Rarick is the Director of the Robert T. Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service, a California Fellow at the Institute of Governmental Studies, and the author of California Rising: The Life and Times of Pat Brown.

Comments to “Will Prop. 30 pass? Here’s some historical perspective

  1. Run our schools by taking the funds back from entitlements where the money was re-distributed to in the first place. Yes, break contracts NOT voted on by tax payers, instead penned by disgusting politicians knowing the underfunded deals would bankrupt our Golden State!

    Irresponsibility shouldn’t be rewarded in our homes or our government.

  2. This state has a problem with entitilments. If this state would bring down the welfare role they would not need to raise taxes we need to cut welfare. People move to California just because of what this state pays out in welfare. Go to the schools and watch what kind of cars Welfare moms drive. Look and see what type of cell phones such as iPhone5 these people have when they cry broke. Look at how many kids get free lunches due to the fact parents are not honest on paperwork. Look how many also receive free transportation when others have pay!

    The only public worker that should have decent retirements are police, fire, and teachers. Cut the bloated salaries that legislators receive. City workers should not make more than those in the private sector make for the same job.

  3. Our school district will lose 18 days of school. Many of our workers will loose enough pay to lose their homes. Right or wrong on how we landed here, and whether or not this is the best solution, our town is in huge trouble if this does not pass. I encourage those “NO” voters to consider that there are human beings behind this ballot that will have their lives changed forever if it does not pass.

  4. After uncovering $50 million stashed in the parks& rec department this year I find it appalling that any California citizen would support a tax increase for anything! It’s obvious that our government is too big to manage itself, it’s corruption and inefficiencies. Why can’t the voters see through this and make the right choice?

  5. We don’t have an income problem. We have a spending problem. Don’t be fooled by the kid stuff. In another few years we’ll be asking tax payers for more money! CA is no longer a rewarding place to live. The harder we work, the more that is taken.

  6. Vote no on Prop. 30. This is a piggy bank for the governor/government. We are quickly becoming a government-run state and as such will need major funding. Our public employee compensation model is unsustainable. This is a scam, VOTE NO!

  7. I would vote for Prop 30 provided the following occurs: (a) All state employees are immediately transitioned to a 401k plan with no more than a 4k match (this is what most private sector employees receive); (b) all state employees are required to pay twenty percent of their health care premiums (this is the average in private industry), and (c) the number of state employees is capped (based on the average number of state of employees per resident – all 50 states). Seriously, we have an unsustainable employee compensation model and nothing will cure the problem until we right size state employee compensation expenditures.

    • Will you also require that base salaries for state employees be raised to market rates comparable to the private sector? Because then I might be with you.

  8. Hey Nate,

    Teachers don’t make $120,000 a year. if you wanted summers off you had the same opportunity as anyone else to become a teacher. Just a little “education” for you.

    • It’s funny how the general population think teachers have all this vacation time. Teachers are not paid for anytime off. If they are not working they are not getting paid. Teachers also spend countless hours of their own time working on lesson plans & grading, that they are not compensated for.
      As for prop 30… if this prop does not pass things look very grim for the future of education and our children. No matter what you think about where this money goes or doesn’t go, the fact is millions of more dollars will be cut from education and it will have a direct impact on everyone in on way or another.

  9. Yes on Prop 30!! Read the fine print! Help our schools! Support Prop 30.. Our children are depending on it…

  10. I am dismayed at people’s comments who feel that this proposition is a hoax. I am a teacher with 20 years experience. I have seen the crumbling of resources for our students. We have been fund raising now for four years just to have enough money for paper and pencils. We are dedicated to the education of our youth and will always put that priority first. However if this proposition does not pass, it will be catastrophic to our public education. Schools have lost billions if dollars over the last five years. You will see class sizes of 35 to 40 students in elementary and more at the high school level. This proposition would cost on average $40 a year per family. I would hope our children are worth this sacrifice.

    • You are deluded if you think these taxes will benefit education. It is the State’s responsibility to provide basic services such as fire, police and education, followed by amenities such as parks, beaches, etc. If the state focused on what it’s requirements were instead of handouts there would be PLENTY of money to go around.

      • John, which programs would you cut? Do you know the sources of funding for those programs or how much they contribute to California’s budget? Really, the only “handout” to be cut that would make a difference would be to prisons, but we can’t cut that much more since the Federal government noticed the conditions. Somehow, I doubt this was what you had in mind.

          • We of COURSE the state spends most of its money on employee compensation. Most of what the state does is provide services (via people). I guess that does prove that it isn’t spending most of its money on cars and iphones for welfare moms, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that people are overpaid. It just means that other costs (rentals, utilities, etc.) are low relative to human resources. A lot of successful companies- particularly any that provide services rather than manufacture goods- also have compensation as their largest expense.

    • because we’ve read it? because there is no guarantee this money goes to schools. its just a tax. its just to get around the 2/3 legislature requirement. its general-funds money.

      • Yes! The whole point for the ballot measure is that it guarantees the funds directly pass right to school districts. Taxes on Prop 30 are nominal and will likely not affect you.

        Raises California’s sales tax to 7.5% from 7.25%, a 3.45% percentage increase over current law. (Under the Brown Tax Hike, the sales tax would have increased to 7.75%)[3][4]

        Creates four high-income tax brackets for taxpayers with taxable incomes exceeding $250,000, $300,000, $500,000 and $1,000,000. This increased tax will be in effect for 7 years.[3][5][6]

  11. No More taxes!! Sacramento lost track of how many millions that was stashed by the State Parks dept. So why would we trust these same politicians to use these extra taxes to be put to good use! You had a great analysis but unfortunately the money will be handled by politicians who have no clue….schools won’t see this money it will probably go to the railway to “no where”.

  12. NO WAY! NO MORE TAXES! We are already taxed to the max. This does not address the problem of the liberal politicians who just keep spending, spending, spending. And they had better keep their greedy, covetous hooks off our Prop 13. That we will never surrender.

    • I think it will pass. People like funding education because it is good for our children. I support more funding for our children.

      • Your funny very little of this will go directly to students. To teachers pensions and more waste. Sign me up for summers off and 120k for teaching PE

        • Prop 30 is GOOD for California! The ballot measure GUARANTEES that funds will go directly to local schools districts.

  13. Wow, it’s great to see so many sides of this issue presented. Thanks for showing us all those numbers, and giving us a broader historical perspective from which to view this proposition.


  14. A great trend analysis showing the “seasonal” trends during an election year. It certainly makes one fear what could happen to our state economy without the boost to the finances. Public education, public services, parks, emergency personnel and more will all be cut. How desireable will California be then? You will then see people go after prop 13 to increase property taxes, which are already high.

    My family pays almost 10% of our pretax income to property tax. Sales tax increases are the most fair because you are taxed on what you spend. We moved into a nice area for the schools for our children. If this prop does not pass, much is at risk.

  15. Thank you for this great article and the research you did behind it. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in November!

Comments are closed.