With less than two weeks remaining before California voters decide the fate of Prop 23, opposition organizers believe they may have have finally gained the upper hand in the battle over whether or not to suspend the state’s landmark AB 32 greenhouse gas emissions law.
According to several recent polls, support has been waning for the ballot initiative. A Public Policy Institute of California survey completed earlier this week has the measure losing by 48-37 percent, with 15 percent still undecided.
What’s more, thanks to a late push from a coalition of conservation groups, green energy interests and celebrity environmentalists, the No on 23 campaign now has significantly more money to play with in its efforts to win over those remaining undecided voters. According to mandatory state financial disclosure laws, the Yes on 23 movement now trails its opposition by a ratio of nearly three to one in total funds.
Over the past three weeks, supporters of the bill have contributed less than $800,000 to the campaign—a figure that was surpassed by a singular $1 million contribution from director James Cameron last week. In all, “big green” has raised at least $28 million to defeat the measure, with Big Oil and its allies managing to collect just $9 million.
Money from much-maligned “out-of-state oil interests” like Valero and Tesoro appears to have dried up, with other oil companies thus far refusing to join the fight. Meanwhile, the Koch brothers—whose virtually limitless supply of money has helped to finance right-wing activists ranging from the Tea Party movement to the Cato Institute—appear to have moved on as well.
Though any of these wealthy backers might decided to help fund a late push, for now it appears that the Yes on 23 campaign made its last major media buy earlier this week, when it purchased $2 million in television spots that will air in the greater Los Angeles area between now and election day.
Reading the Tea Leaves
But despite diminishing funds and a growing deficit in the polls, the Yes on 23 campaign does appear to have one major edge over its opposition leading into November: Conservatives are thought to be far more enthusiastic about voting this year than their moderate and liberal counterparts.
And in recent primaries throughout the country, those voters have been resilient if not hostile to the GOP establishment—rendering opposition to the measure from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman relatively meaningless in its influence on many right-leaning voters.
Like most elections, the fate of Prop 23 will most likely be decided by who shows up to vote. If turnout is moderate-to-high across all demographics, the measure has little chance of passing. But if liberals and moderate Democrats stay home this year as many analysts have predicted, races like Prop 23 and the gubernatorial contest could wind up being a lot closer than the current polls suggest.
A recent Rasmussen study found that 21 percent of California voters consider themselves to be members of the Tea Party. Other polls conducted throughout the country suggest that as many as 80 percent of self-identified Tea Partiers are likely to vote this fall.
With general turnout not expected to exceed 45 percent in California this year, the Tea Party movement could end up representing as much as 35 percent of the electorate on November 2. If that constituency votes as expected, it’s possible that Proposition 23 could pass with the support of less than one-third of the remaining electorate.