With 100 percent of precincts reporting (but, possibly, many absentee ballots remaining to be counted), all eight of the propositions on the California ballot, including the four supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, have been defeated. There's a general rule in California politics that when in doubt voters tend to vote no, and that surely accounts for the defeat by wide margins of two prescription drug and one electricity regulation propositions, on which Schwarzenegger did not take a stand. And that may have contributed to the defeat of the four on which he did. But there is no way to spin away from the conclusion that this was a big defeat for Schwarzenegger and a big victory for the public employee unions.
Start with the ballot proposition, not supported by Schwarzenegger, which came closest to passing: Proposition 73, parental consent for abortion. In most states this would have been supported by a solid majority. But in culturally liberal California it lost 53-to-47 percent. This map tells you why: huge majorities against it in the San Francisco Bay Area, lower margins in favor in the Central Valley and Inland Empire.
The four Schwarzenegger-backed propositions fared as follows:
-- Proposition 74, increasing the time before which teachers could get tenure, lost 55-to-45 percent. It's not clear to me why Schwarzenegger made this such a high-priority item, but it's clear that the California Teachers Association did. This was the proposition on which the most votes were cast, 6,649,000.
-- Proposition 75, banning the use of union dues without members' affirmative permission, lost 53-to-47 percent. Schwarzenegger backed this only after it was put on the ballot by others, and it ended up getting the most votes of the four propositions he backed. Passage would have crippled the public employee unions' political arms, but perhaps, as in Washington state, they simply wouldn't have obeyed the law.
-- Proposition 76, setting limits on spending, lost by the biggest margin of Schwarzenegger's propositions, 62-to-38 percent. It was also the one most relevant to his powers.
-- Proposition 77, entrusting the redistricting of congressional and legislative districts to panels of retired judges, was defeated 59-to-41 percent. Similar measures have been defeated by similar margins before. Schwarzenegger complained that the bipartisan redistricting plan adopted for the 2002 elections so safeguarded incumbents and their parties that none of the 53 congressional, 40 state Senate, and 80 assembly districts changed partisan hands in 2004. True. But if there are shifts of opinion in the state, as there were in the 1980s and 1990s, districts once safe for one party or the other will be put into play and change hands, as they did at that time. Passage would probably not have resulted in new districts for 2006there's not much time before filing deadlinesand districts for 2008 and 2010 would have to be based on the 2000 census, as current districts are, since census estimates don't provide the level of detail for district-drawing.
This will be portrayed as a Republican defeat, though it was not purely a partisan plan. Republican incumbents opposed it because (a) they might get unsafe seats and (b) it seems entirely possible that a plan drawn up without partisan considerations might give the Republicans fewer than the 20 House seats they currently hold. The 2002 redistricting was a bipartisan deal, approved by every House incumbent except the beleaguered Gary Condit.
Incidentally, a similar measure, backed by Democrats, failed to pass in Ohio, where districting was controlled by Republicans (although even there, for reasons I won't get into, there was a bipartisan deal on the U.S. House seats). Bipartisanship and nonpartisanshipboth considered Good Things by many Good Government typesdon't produce the same results in redistricting.
Where did Schwarzenegger lose support? Everywhere except, counterintuitively, the San Francisco Bay Area. I compared the results of the October 2003 recall election in which 55 percent of voters voted to oust Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and the results on Proposition 75, the measure that got the highest positive vote, 47 percent. Support for the Republican positionrecall and 75fell 11 percentage points in Los Angeles County, 12 points in the rest of Southern California, and 12 points in the rest of the state outside the Bay Area. In the Bay Area it fell only 0.3 points.
In Los Angeles County a very narrow majority against recall (51-49) was converted into a big margin against Prop. 75 (62-38). The rest of Southern California was staunchly for recall (69-31) but only heavily for 75 (57-43). And the rest of Northern California's big margin for recall (64-36) fell to a very narrow (52-48) approval of 75.
Turnout was way down from 200326 percent statewide and between 24 and 27 percent in each of the four regions. The Los Angeles Times does not seem to have conducted an exit poll, so far as I can tell. Turnout in October 2003 was probably heavier among Republicans than is usual in California elections. Turnout this month evidently was not. Most of Schwarzenegger's propositions were defeated by margins similar to the 54-44 percent margin by which John Kerry led George W. Bush in California.
The real winners in this race were the public employee unions. Starting last February, they spent more than $100 million on ads attacking Schwarzenegger. They worked. His job approval and personal favorability fell well below 50 percent, even below 40 percentlevels similar to Bush's nationally. In that light, what's interesting is that two of the four propositions he backed won as much as 47 and 45 percent of the vote and that the one most related to his powers, Proposition 76, fared the worst. It's as if people are voting party, pretty much down the line, regardless of their current disapproval of the party's leading figure.
Schwarzenegger will need more than that to win a full term in 2006, of course. But he'll have one advantage he didn't have this time. He'll have an opponent. And there's a clear path to win, one used by Republican governors in heavily Democratic states like Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York: the argument that with Democrats controlling everything else, you need a Republican governor to prevent state government spending from ballooning out of control. But of course that does nothing for Republicans in California for 2008.