Arnold can threaten to burn down the state all he wants but his Freudian slip is closer to the truth: California voters are poised to reject the May 19 propositions.
Assuming the polling holds true, the outcome of this election is going to be absurd. Despite a full-court press Prop 1A is in worse shape than it was back in March. Prop 1C, the only one of these that actually matters on May 20, is faring the worst of them all, abandoned by Arnold's Budget Reform Now coalition. Props 1D and 1E, which will have a negligible effect on the budget situation on May 20, are actually in the best shape, so voters might decimate children's and mental health programs without actually providing the reforms that the legislators claim they need.
As Mark Baldassare, PPIC president points out, all this election has accomplished is the energization of the most reactionary elements of the electorate:
"The voters who are really tuned in are really turned off," says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president, CEO, and survey director. "They see the state's budget situation as a big problem, but so far, they don't like the solution."
The voters most likely to be following news of the special election very closely are older than age 55, men, and those who disapprove of the governor and legislature.
I attribute this to the total failure of the Yes campaign, rooted in their "fear will keep them in line" strategy. Ignoring every lesson of the 2008 campaign, the Yes side has tried to scare people into voting for the initiatives. Instead they merely seem to have scared the most conservative part of the electorate into showing up to register their disdain.
Another significant aspect of the PPIC poll is the dramatic contrast between California's attitudes toward the federal government and the state government. Californians broadly support President Obama and the Democratic Congress and feel good about the country's track, but strongly disapprove of their own state's government and where California is headed.
Hence, this Fail Whale image. The Democratic legislative leadership has badly miscalculated by trying to scare their base into supporting the initiatives. The fearmongering has made folks less likely to want to show up on May 19 - why would anyone be motivated by a "hold your nose" argument? Why would anyone want to show up to vote for initiatives in the absence of an assertive and aggressive strategy to fight budget cuts? And finally, why would anyone want to vote for anti-progressive initiatives that will merely make our future budget deficits deeper and more intractable? Obama inspired and empowered, but the Yes on 1A coalition demotivated and disempowered.
When these initiatives fail, as Arnold rightly predicted, it will primarily be a repudiation of Arnold Schwarzenegger's failed governorship. It will also be a sign that progressive voters are not going to help defend a bad set of budget solutions. If progressive legislators and organizations want to mobilize their base to help produce a fairer budget, they need to make a stand in the Capitol to ensure that anything that goes to voters has at least passing resemblance to progressive policy.
The last two elections in California - November 2008 and May 2009 - will both offer important lessons to Democrats and progressives. They both prove that if you want public support for a program of change, you have to offer hope and a credibly progressive set of solutions. If you do, the public WILL turn out to support it. If you do not, the public WILL reject it.
The keys to California's future are waiting for anyone willing to embrace a progressive, empowering set of solutions. May 19 is a clarion call for that kind of leadership in our state.