Taking the Initiative

I wrote 560 words about the ballot measures voters faced this year, but I can summarize in just one: Huh? If you need a slightly longer ...
by | November 8, 2007

I wrote 560 words about the ballot measures voters faced this year, but I can summarize in just one: Huh?

If you need a slightly longer synopsis, here it is:

-Voters in conservative Utah rejected school vouchers, a favorite idea of conservatives.

-Voters in socially progressive New Jersey decided they didn't want to spend $450 million on stem cell research, a favorite cause of social progressives.

-Voters in typically tight-fisted Texas approved a series of bond measures to the tune of $10 billion.

-Voters in left-leaning Washington state approved an anti-tax advocate's initiative to make it harder for the state to increase taxes and fees

Counterintuitive as they might seem, these results don't necessarily deserve the "huh" I just gave them. If you follow ballot measures, you know that the outcomes often run against the liberal or conservative labels ascribed to states. As one example, that anti-tax advocate in Washington, Tim Eyman, has frequently persuaded voters to support his initiatives.

Part of the reason is that the fifty states are divided more by partisanship than by ideology (and even the extent to which they're divided by partisanship is often overestimated). Even in the most Democratic states, voters would usually rather have lower taxes. Even in the most conservative states, voters are sympathetic to public education (see Utah and Texas last night).

The other part of the reason is that voters' views on ballot measures are especially malleable. There are no well-known incumbents. Often, the public is asked to vote on something they never have before, which inherently leads to unpredictability. That's what makes ballot measure politics so much fun.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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