A Deliberative Poll for CA's Future :: Summer 2011

Press Release: Californians Come Together to Map Path Toward Progress

August 22, 2011

Sacramento, Calif. – Californians want more oversight over elected officials, a clear and strong initiative process, and more power for local governments, according to the results of California's first-ever deliberative poll, organizers of which agree can – and should – guide efforts to fix state government.

More than 400 people – a scientifically selected random sample – came to Torrance in June for the What's Next California? deliberative poll.

"Ordinary polls provide a momentary snapshot of the public's impressions of sound bites and headlines," said Stanford University's James Fishkin, who developed and ran the deliberative poll on behalf of a large group of organizers and sponsors with an interest in reforming California's government. "Deliberative polling shows what a scientific sample of the public thinks about policy issues if they have the opportunity to dig a little deeper and really explore the issues."

The poll focused on six essential areas: reforming the Legislature, reforming the initiative process, state-local government restructuring, tax and fiscal reforms, and efficacy and "mutual respect" between voters and representatives, as well as their evaluations of the process itself. More specific information is available on nextca.org, but highlights of the results follow:

  • Close to 70 percent of participants questioned whether the Legislature was able to "get important things done." However, they were also optimistic and, after deliberations, supported legislative and electoral reforms intended to improve the ability of legislators to represent their districts. Interestingly, despite their low opinion of the Legislature's effectiveness, they ended up supporting increasing the length of terms and the size of the Legislature. Participants overwhelmingly supported reforms that would improve public oversight and government accountability.
  • Participants trusted themselves enough to see the voter initiative process as a valuable tool, but they also want a transparent process that makes clear consequences – fiscal and otherwise – of the initiatives they're asked to evaluate.
  • Participants supported giving local governments greater control over financing of local programs, in exchange for establishing performance goals, monitoring and public reporting. More than three quarters of respondents supported allowing local governments to keep state money they saved through successful program management, in exchange for strong public accountability. Most respondents believe that decision-making authority should be mostly at the local level a change from their opinions before deliberations.
  • Nearly 90 percent of participants supported requiring the Legislature to indicate how the state will pay for new programs or tax cuts costing $25 million or more, and nearly 70 percent supported growing the rainy day fund. They also supported limiting one-time revenues to one-time expenditures, starting with paying down state debt and filling the rainy day coffers.
  • Deliberative polling shows what a scientific sample of the public thinks about policy issues if they have the opportunity to explore them through informed discussion, including the availability of relevant facts, and the opportunity to consider the critical arguments on both sides through one-on-one conversations with peers and the ability to question experts. About 70 percent of the policy attitude questions asked in deliberative polls typically change significantly after deliberation.

"It was really an extraordinary process – essentially a miniature constitutional convention – that ended with some extraordinary results," said Lenny Mendonca, an event organizer with California Forward, the New America Foundation and California Common Cause. "We've given lawmakers and reform organizations some incredibly valuable tools to use as they move toward real progress for our state, and I know I speak for all the organizers when I say we hope – and expect – that they take it seriously."

Partners who worked together to pursue the deliberative poll include:

  • California Forward
  • The New America Foundation
  • The Public Policy Institute of California
  • The Nicolas Berggruen Institute
  • The Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University
  • The Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine University
  • California Common Cause
  • The Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University
  • MacNeil/Lehrer Production's By the People

Funding came from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Automobile Club of Southern California, the American Leadership Forum - Silicon Valley, California Forward, Emerson Collective, John and Ann Doerr, David Davenport and Lenny and Christine Mendonca.

More information, including videos from the deliberative poll, is available online at nextca.org.

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Lara Azar, Ogilvy PR