Monday, April 25, 2005

Breaking News: CA Voters Support Redistricting Reform

The Rose Institute of State and Local Government today announced the results of a statewide survey of 800 likely voters finding two-thirds of California voters think that allowing state legislators to draw their own districts is both a conflict of interest and something to be changed.

The voters surveyed prefer new lines be drawn and used by 2006, rather than 2011.

The Institute's press release correctly indicates that traditional opponents - the Speaker of the Assembly and the Senate President Pro Tempore - now support redistricting reform; however they neglect to clarify that the implementation timeline is still a significant sticking point and the main reason reform is currently still headed for the ballot box and not the governor's desk.

Also included in the Institute's data are numbers continuing to reflect that Schwarzenegger's approval rating is slipping - significantly among Democrats - with "others" close to evenly split on his performance.

Unshockingly, people still hate the legislature by about 17%. No data was included in the 6 page report on whether voters continue to think their own legislator is better than the mob as a whole.

California voters are also most concerned about legislative failure to pass timely budgets and legislative ties to special interests. Only 36% said they were very concerned about legislators drawing their own district lines (so they are safe from any challenges in elections) [no comment on the structure of that question's stucture]. No data indicates that respondents were asked if prior to the survey they had ever actively felt concerned about legislators drawing their own districts, though a later question did query those polled about their familiarity with gerrymandering.

More on reform:

The survey concedes that redistricting isn't a primary issue for all voters, with only two-thirds saying they have heard of and understand "gerrymandering." The survey reports 73% of voters agree that redistricting is a conflict of interest for the legislature.

The question posed: "Some people say it is a conflict of interest for legislators to draw their own election districts. Do you agree or disagree with that idea? Is that strongly?

From the order in which the report presents questions posed, this lengthier question was asked after the one described above:

After each census, the state legislature redraws the boundary lines for California's districts, which are then used to elect our representatives to Congress, the State Senate, and the State Assembly. This process is called redistricting. Have you heard or read the term gerrymandering, which is when redistricting is abused either to benefit one political party over the other or to benefit incumbents by making their districts safe from challengers?
This question, then, contains a more complete picture of possible line-drawing antics. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed said they had heard of the practice.

Around two-thirds of voters agreed that both an independent commission or a bipartisan panel of retired judges would be preferable to state legislators drawing the lines. The report does not, however, contain data ranking voters' preferences between commissions and bipartisan judicial panels.

Perhaps the most interesting voter-preference question pits gerrymandered districts for the purpose of increasing California's Capitol Hill clout against districts drawn to preserve compact, community-considerate units. Fifty percent prefered unified communities, with 14% not knowing their preference. No comment yet from David Dreier on his reaction to that statistic . . . .

The $64,000 Question:

The Institute's survey also asked voters about their preferences for when to implement reforms. They conclude that likely voters of all parties appear "more concerned with fixing a system that maintained party control in all 153 districts up for election in 2004 than concerned about comparisons to the Republican power grab in Texas last year."

For the record, however, voters were never directly asked about the Republican power grab in Texas. The analogy was drawn, according to a Rose Institute analyst, from voters' responses to whether they'd prefer D.C. power-play districts or community-based districts and their responses to whether the proposed reform is Schwarzenegger's honest effort to reform and improve California government or a Republican power grab.

Accordingly, voters indicated their preference that reforms take effect before the 2006 election with 59% supporting a 2006 (or 2008) redrawing over 31% favoring waiting until 2011.

No more information was given to survey participants regarding the role of the timing issue in the on-going struggle between Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders.

According to Rose Institute Consulting Fellow Douglas Johnson, redistricting reform proponents have been working toward reform for over 30 years, so if the success of Schwarzenegger's efforts turn on delaying implementation until 2011, he and others would still be satisfied.

"The reform itself is more important than when [it occurs]," he said.

[And now to editorialize: I used to be a manager at the Rose Institute and involved in their past survey work. That doesn't stop me, however, from wishing they had delved more deeply into the timing issue to uncover whether voters would've still supported mid-decade redistricting if they were aware of the significant policy-based drawbacks (inaccurate, outdated data) and political drawbacks (arm-wrestling over the 2006/11 issue could gum up the whole thing and unnecessarily end hopes of reformists again). Also, few questions based on the actual proposal circulating for signatures were included. I acknowledge the limitations of this - and any - survey - but do hope for future surveys to capture what more fully-informed voters would say. Which of course, brings up the point that it's hard to be a fully informed voter and hard to go out and fully inform voters.

Technical notes: First, the report should be available via the link at the top of this post - but if it isn't, that's out of my control. Second, you'll note the comments are still broken. Still looking into it. Until then, use the email link in the side bar for comments purposes.]

Update: The link now directs to the report.

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