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Facts Are Stupid Things

by: David Dayen

Thu May 21, 2009 at 12:15:03 PM PDT

Virtually the entire political leadership in Sacramento took without questioning the view that the overwhelming loss of the special election is somehow a mandate for "living within our means" and deep, drastic cuts to the budget.  The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times (in multiple venues) and most other publications provided uncritical coverage of the Governor and even leading Democrats, parroting this theory that "the voters spoke" and the message was that only cuts would be allowable from this point forward.

Beware of any sentence that starts with the words "What the voters told us was..."  Far too often in our politics, dishonest lawmakers decide that voters mandate their particular ideologies and preferred policy decisions regardless of the facts.  Perhaps the only real message delivered from the voters to lawmakers was that the former doesn't particularly like or trust the latter.  But there are other possibilities.  A new polling memo by David Binder Research details why Prop. 1A in particular failed, and the results do not match the Governor's ramblings.

Contrary to what the Governor is saying after the defeat of his proposals, Prop 1A did not fail because voters delivered a message to "go all out" in cutting government spending. The all-time record low turnout for a statewide special election clearly demonstrates the lack of depth to that argument. Prop 1A did not
generate a spike in turnout and taxes were not cited as the main reason why voters overwhelmingly rejected Prop 1A.  Support for a state budget that relies solely on spending cuts is very limited - even among those voting no on Prop 1a.  

Voters in this election were more likely to be Republicans and less likely to be Independents, whereas Democratic voters came out in proportions consistent with past turnout. Of those that voted in this election, 43% were Democrats, 42% were Republicans and 15% were Independents or minor party voters. This past November, the electorate consisted of 46% Democrats, 32% Republicans and 22% Independents or minor party voters.  

In November 2010, the electorate will be a group that is more supportive of the revenue options tested in the survey, and more strongly opposed to only using cuts to balance the state budget. While only 36% of voters that turned out for the May 19th election supported using entirely budget cuts to balance the budget, even fewer - only 24% -- of non-voters felt the same way [...]

Voters simply do not trust the leadership in Sacramento, and recognize that the failed special election was just another example of the inability to bring real solutions to voters. When given two choices, four out of five voters - even among those who voted 'Yes' on 1A - agreed that the special election was just another example of the failure of the Governor and Legislature, who should make the hard decisions necessary to really fix the budget. Only 20% agreed the special election was a sincere effort to fix the state's budget mess.

I would argue that the voters feel no trust in the legislature because they see time and again policy solutions that stick the average Californian with the bill that the wealthy and well-connected don't pay.  The fact that the only permanent tax issue in the February budget was a $1 billion dollar tax cut for the largest corporations in America is a perfect example.

The polling memo also shows broad support for tax increases in a variety of areas, including wiping out this massive corporate tax cut:

75% support increasing taxes on alcoholic beverages (62% support among 'No' voters)
74% support increasing taxes on tobacco (62% support among 'No' voters)
73% support imposing an oil extraction tax on oil companies just like every other oil producing
state (60% support among 'No' voters)
63% support closing the loophole that allows corporations to avoid reassessment of the value of
new property they purchase (58% support among 'No' voters)
63% support increasing the top bracket of the state income tax from nine point three percent to
10 percent for families with taxable income over $272,000 a year and to eleven percent for
families with taxable incomes over $544,000 a year (51% support among 'No' voters)
59% support prohibiting corporations from using tax credits to offset more than fifty percent of the
taxes they owe (55% support among 'No' voters)

In addition, voters oppose the kind of spending cuts outlined by the Governor.

Now, I'm sure I'll hear "eat it, you pipe dream librul hippie" because of the structural issues that prohibit these kind of tax solutions.  But the reason that the legislature has such desperately low esteem right now is that they fail to publicly even advocate for the solutions Californians plainly want, or the breakage of the structural barriers that would provide it.  This failure caused the May 19 debacle and will cause further problems for the Democrats in the state if they are not careful.  A political party seen as devoid of principle will not be a successful political party forever.  What Californians desire, essentially, is leadership.  And they will punish those who refuse to give it to them.

UPDATE by Brian: I've posted the slides for the Binder Research presentation over the flip.

David Dayen :: Facts Are Stupid Things

Why Prop 1A Lost Powerpoint -
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seriously (4.00 / 1)
I didn't vote no on most everything because I wanted tax cuts. I did it because I wanted MORE taxes. In fact, I saw all the propositions as effectively being cuts! How is letting the state dip its hands into the mental health fund not a cut?! That would've been a blatant cut of that fund. We rejected cuts doofuses, not asking for more!  

I agree (5.00 / 1)
That is why I voted against (most) of the ballot initiatives as well.

The oil tax should be a no brainer, and I can see no reason we don't have one.  Come on, even Palin's Alaska taxes oil and no one complains.  What is wrong with California in this regard??  If Arnold wants to allow them to drill the very least he can propose is to allow them to pay to get us out of this mess (note: please don't let them drill, I am not in favor of polluting our coastline).  

[ Parent ]
Any "political reality"... (5.00 / 5)
...that looks at 63% support for taxing the top incomes, or 75% for taxing booze*, and calls it "unrealistic" is not actually political reality, but a kind of nightmarish land of irrationality.

Californians as you rightly say want leadership. THAT is the lesson of May 19, not a lesson of "hurry up and cut!"

The legislature is distrusted because its members will not forcefully advocate for things that are obvious, sensible, and widely supported.

*As a noted booze drinker, I would be more than happy to pay this tax.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

I would argue more than noted (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
plase xpost this on dkos (0.00 / 0)
i can't take the time to do my own version today.

David: Please say you are running for office soon. (5.00 / 2)
We can use anyone that can formulate a coherent thought in office now.  Someone has to stand up for what is right.  

Can this fit on a bumper sticker? Commercial? (0.00 / 0)
On a big ugly electronic billboard somewhere?

. . . they fail to publicly even advocate for the solutions Californians plainly want, or the breakage of the structural barriers that would provide it. . . A political party seen as devoid of principle will not be a successful political party forever.  What Californians desire, essentially, is leadership

[ Parent ]
So why are Dem legislators not getting this? (4.00 / 1)
Fear of contradicting the messaging from the leadership, given what happened to those who stepped out of line prior to the proposition debacle?

Fear of losing the support of big-dollar donors who may be liberal on certain social policies but are even more interested in keeping their own taxes low?

Or are they truly economically right-wing themselves, a fact they have been able to cloak by hiding behind the 2/3 rules ("I would love to have a progressive tax system, but darn it, those Republicans won't let me")?

Is it fear of doing something different, which in the era of term limits they fear could be suicidal?  (In "Yes, Minister," Sir Humphrey can stop any new policy by simply telling the minister it would be a bold step.)

Or is there just something funky in the water in Sacramento?

Not really a surprise. (0.00 / 0)
Major cuts are the inevitable result of these measures failing, and as much as they sucked I am hardly surprised that the outcome is being read the way it is.  1A (lousy as it was) was the only measure on the ballot that was even remotely pro-tax, extending current taxes (while of course also doing many other things), and barely a third of people voted for it.

When fewer than 35 percent of Californians supported 1A it is hard to imagine that people are going to read that as a mandate for more revenues.

1A was being sold as a fix to problems now.... (0.00 / 0)
it clearly wasn't.  We have a 21 billion dollar hole now, so extending tax increases in a couple of years does nothing to help us NOW.  The other issues with 1A only compounded the problem, but saying 1A was a pro-tax initiative is inaccurate, at best.  

[ Parent ]
1A & taxes (0.00 / 0)
It was the only one that even related to raising or extending taxes.  1C,D,E were money-shifting or borrowing.  When you have a measure that does that, and it goes down 2 to 1, why wouldn't you expect that people would think that means that Californians don't want new taxes?

I am honestly kind of surprised at the surprise that is being expressed here.  

[ Parent ]
I wouldn't say I'm surprised (0.00 / 0)
Let's be clear, however: 1C, 1D and 1E went down by margins that were just as large as 1A.  Is the message foregrounded that people didn't want to cut mental health or First Five programs?  Or borrow our way out of the problem?  Or, if you're only going to look at one side of 1A, that people have no interest in spending caps of any kind?


[ Parent ]
Totally agreed on the facts (0.00 / 0)
but I also think it was kind of a given that this was going to be the message that got pushed. I fully expected that the republicans in the state would take the failure of these measures as the perfect tool with which to exclaim that whatever they wanted in the first place was right -- of course, that message is fully cemented by the fact that "our" side didn't seem to be prepared with a comeback. Also, since the sort of "establishment" Dems wound up supporting and pushing for these, it makes it easy to sell the storyline that this was their failure, whether that reflects reality or no.

Their message machine beats ours every damned time. It's sort of a given.

[ Parent ]
the shortfall was huge either way (5.00 / 1)
it is bullshit to pretend like the budget would have been peachy even if we voted for props like 1a that would have brought no immediate relief anyway.

15 billion dollars. this whole thing was a charade to justify cuts.

[ Parent ]
Is it possible to get a link to that memo? (0.00 / 0)

Done! (0.00 / 0)
There's now a link in the diary, but here it is again:


I think?

[ Parent ]
Slides 9 and 10 in the Binder presentation (5.00 / 1)
are absolutely devastating.  This screams out to be disseminated more broadly -- and legislators need to be quizzed as to whether they've read it, understand it, and will be guided by it.

Facts (0.00 / 0)
Voters were voting against the status quo. All of the ballot measures looked like more of the same thing we've seen for years - borrowing, shifting funds, temporary taxes. Everyone's seen these kind of "solutions" before. Folks are tired of seeing the mess kicked down the road until the next budget crisis. And they are tired of bogus solutions - look at the voter turnout. If that doesn't indicate fatigue, what does?

Neutral polling firm? (0.00 / 0)
If the polling was from Adam Probolosky an Orange County Republican, I would probably be skeptical of the results just as much as the results from David Binder. I would probably would accept results from the Los Angeles Times or the Field Poll as more legitimate.

Contracts have grown high since 1999 when Governor Davis became elected. I would not support mass layoffs, but I would redact any increases to deferred benefits and cut the excess.

If we want to be like Detroit Michigan or Michigan state as a whole lets continue on this experiment. If we want to chase away the achievers feel free where the auto industry is basically destroyed. When the achievers move away due to the beauty of federalism, then we will have no revenue.

I know I will be karma bombed on this sentiment, but I feel it has to be said.  

Are you saying contracts have grown greater than /population and inflation?? (0.00 / 0)
I would love to see data on that, but I doubt that it is very true.  

I doubt healthcare workers getting 12.10 an hour have a bloated contract.  If they do, they deserve it.  12.10 an hour in California (at least where most of the people live) would barely support one person, let alone a family.  That is what, 20,000 a year, full time??  Arnold wants to cut that back to 8.  

Are these the contracts you mean??

[ Parent ]
Exactly (0.00 / 0)
That commenter was saying that someone making barely above the minimum wage is getting "excessive" compensation.

Why should we take seriously anyone who makes such a patently ridiculous claim?

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

[ Parent ]
Why does everyone want to destroy the economy? (5.00 / 1)
As I said to someone else, if a race to the bottom was good for the economy, wouldn't companies be flocking to Mississippi?

All these people whining about the modest wages and benefits of public employees, who are silent as the dead on the ridiculous and indefensible salaries and benefits of many CEOs, are basically saying that it's wrong to make a living doing government work. That in a recession, the goal should not to be to find a way to climb out of it by increasing wages, but to pull everyone down into the abyss.

I cannot think of a more idiotic method of economic recovery than spite. Which is what this whole "soak the public workers!" really is.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

[ Parent ]
what the voters said (4.00 / 1)
at least around 78% of them, was "fuck you, i'm not going to vote in this worthless false choice election."

all the other talk is about divining the intent of the superminority who actually voted.

how does one repost those documents embedded like that? (0.00 / 0)
this needs to be samizdatted far and wide.

For the Powerpoint (6.50 / 2)
Go to the Docstoc page and there should be an embed button on the top left of the doc.

I think?

[ Parent ]
thanks. this stuff is like kryptonite n/t (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
For too long the 'citizens' of this state and the nation... (0.00 / 0)
...have ignored their responsibility to inform themselves and to get involved in the political process.

Just showing up to vote every so often ain't gonna cut it no more.

Being ignorant on the process of government hurts only the fat, dumbass who doesn't want to be bothered.  

Tax numbers are meaningless (0.00 / 0)
because unless you get enough legislative Republicans to support them to join with the Dems who already do, it's just a meaningless wish list.  

Doesn't take any Republicans (6.50 / 2)
to pass a revenue-neutral measure creating new tax brackets between $47,500 and $999,999, does it?  Imagine the Democratic Party trying to give most Californians a tax break in the middle of this terrible recession.  That wouldn't be popular at all.

[ Parent ]
"I am proudly working for the Yes on 1A-F campaign" (0.00 / 0)
There's a guy with a sense of humor.

[ Parent ]
I don't think you get it (0.00 / 0)
This is about the narrative, not about legislative possibility.

The Bass/Steinberg releases are painting us into a corner by allowing the media to frame the results of the election as a tax revolt when that is ridiculously far away from the truth.

The point of this presentation and the related media events are to disseminate the idea that, no, this isn't a tax revolt, it's a statement that we want the legislature to do its job, and that doesn't mean "cut everything" because the Republicans won't let you do anything else.

These numbers should be considered as a mandate from the California electorate to push aggressively for repeal of the 2/3rds to prevent obstructionist Republicans from letting the legislature do the work they were hired to do.

Unfortunately, that's a far cry from what we're seeing from your boss.

[ Parent ]
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