California Vote May Forecast Schwarzenegger's Fate

ByABC News
November 8, 2005, 2:53 PM

Nov. 8, 2005 — -- Californians go to the polls today in the most expensive initiative campaign in the state's history for a vote that may determine the political future of their famous governor.

Advocates and opponents of eight propositions have spent more than $250 million to lobby the state's 16 million voters in this special election -- California's second unscheduled election in two years. The 2003 special election was the now-infamous recall election that brought actor Arnold Schwarzenegger to Sacramento, and now, two years later, he's struggling to hold on to his agenda.

Four of the measures this year make up part of Schwarzenegger's "Year of Reform" campaign to reorganize California government. In this election, which he's calling a "sequel" to the recall, the governor is taking on other politically powerful groups, including state employees and labor unions, in his effort to limit state spending, modify teacher tenure requirements and change how legislative districts are drawn.

Working against the governor this year is his record low popularity. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, only a third of Californians approve of the way he's doing his job -- the lowest of his career. Schwarzenegger's approval rating peaked at 65 percent in August 2004, but fell precipitously after his budget proposal this year disappointed public school advocates and caused him to "lose his image as an outsider, as an independent," according to PPIC research director Mark Baldassare. His approval ratings slid further still after he announced this special election.

Calling for the special election for this year (estimated to cost the state as much as $80 million) was a gamble for the unpopular governor. Unsuccessful at getting legislative action on key parts of his agenda (the California Legislature is controlled by Democrats), Schwarzenegger has once again turned to the state's initiative process, whereby Californians vote directly on state policy.

Leading up to today, signs have pointed to political miscalculation. Most recent polls show the governor's measures in trouble. And the lack of support for his measures may have spillover effects on his upcoming bid for re-election.

A majority of Californians say that calling the special election itself was a mistake. And the Field poll shows a majority of the state's voters disinclined to re-elect the governor next year. The same poll shows a plurality of voters say that Schwazenegger calling the special election this year makes them less inclined to support him in '06. (See polling information below.)

If the governor's measures end up on top today, he'll reorient state government (pending legal review of the propositions), and will have once again proved his ballot-box prowess, giving him early momentum for his re-election campaign. The governor calls this election a continuation of the recall election, and while the defeat of his measures is not the same as a personal defeat (his name is not on the ballot), if those measures lose, he'll be limping into the '06 campaign.

Additional poll information:

The Stanford/KN poll surveyed 389 likely Calif. voters; has a +/-5 point margin of error.
The Los Angeles Times poll surveyed 940 likely Calif. voters; has a +/- 3 point margin of error.
The Field poll surveyed 300 likely Calif. voters; has a +/-6 point margin of error.
The PPIC poll surveyed 1,079 likely voters; has a +/- 3 point margin of error.