Campaigns for two key ballot measures strongly backed by Democrats and progressives are struggling to sell their messages in the final days before the Nov. 3 election, a new Public Policy Institute of California poll shows.
Proposition 15, sponsored by the California Teachers Association and other public employee unions, would raise property taxes on large commercial real estate $7-12 billion a year, by transforming the method used to calculate tax bills since passage of iconic Proposition 13.
The measure now holds a 49-to-45 percent lead among likely voters in the survey, with six percent undecided. It is unusual for initiatives that fall below 50 percent this close to an election to win, and the new finding marks a significant erosion of support since last month, when the pro-Prop. 15 position held a 51-to-40 percent lead, with nine percent undecided.
Since Prop. 13 passed in 1978, residential and commercial property has been taxed alike, using a system based on purchase price and a cap of 2 percent annual tax increases -- unless a property is sold.
Backers of Prop. 15 seek to create a new, "split roll" system, by taxing business and industrial property worth more than $3 million based on its current market value; they complain not only that large corporations enjoy unfair, long-term tax breaks under the current system but also that some companies use legal and accounting loopholes to avoid triggering a reassessment even when property changes hands.
The current Prop. 13 rules for homeowners and residential property taxes would remain the same if Prop. 15 passes.
When the CTA, the Service Employees International Union and other members of the Prop. 15 coalition launched their campaign early this year, they were optimistic that a booming economy and a large Democratic turnout for the presidential election would improve their chances of amending Prop. 13, long viewed as the third rail of California politics.
But the pandemic, and the resulting slump in the economy, have aided the argument of Prop. 15 foes, led by the California Chamber of Commerce, that the timing for such a tax increase on businesses could not be worse.
A central issue in the campaign has centered on conflicting claims of whether or not Prop. 15 would damage small businesses and consumers, as corporations passed on the costs of higher property taxes. A recent PPIC webinar, which featured a CTA supporter and an opponent representing the California Retailers Association, centered on that issue; you can view it here.
In a poll released Wednesday night, the San Francisco-based, non-partisan PPIC reported key differences over Prop. 15 on measures of political identity, housing status and age.
Democrats overwhelmingly favor the measure, with 71 percent saying they are likely to vote "yes," while only 41 percent of independents and 18 percent of Republicans are in support.
Renters strongly back Prop, 15, with 64 percent saying they expect to vote for it, but only 41 percent of homeowners plan to do so.
Younger Californians are far more likely to support the initiative, with 60 percent of those age 18-44 favoring, while only 42 percent of those 45 and older now are likely to vote for it.
The fight over affirmative action. Proposition 16, a second initiative for which progressives held high hopes, seeks to end California's ban on affirmative action as a factor used in taxpayer-supported higher education, public hiring and contracts. Voters banned affirmative action for state and local governments in 1996, when they passed Prop. 209.
Supporters believed that dramatic shifts in the politics and demographics of the state over the past 25 years would be reflected in renewed support for affirmative action, and that recent focus on racial discrimination after the killing of George Floyd and widespread protests led by Black Lives Matter would also fuel their argument.
Confounding conventional wisdom, however, Prop. 16 has never approached 50 percent support, and the new poll shows it losing 37-to-50 percent, with 12 percent undecided, only a slight gain from last month, when it trailed by 16 points,
There are sharp partisan differences on this measure as well: a 61 percent majority of Democrats back it, while only 22 percent of independents do so, siding with Republicans, among whom just 11 percent of likely voters say they will vote yes.
The PPIC poll findings are based upon interviews with 1,701 adults, conducted between Oct. 9-18. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.
The poll also includes new data on public opinion about Covid, the recent battle over the U.S. Supreme Court, the presidential race and other issues. You can find complete results and data in the survey here.