Los Angeles Times 9/24/04

Poll: Californians Favor Stem-Cell, Health-Care Initiatives

By Megan Garvey
Times Staff Writer

With television advertising campaigns about to begin, California voters currently favor two closely watched ballot initiatives -- one authorizing $3 billion in bonds for research using stem cells taken from embryos and another that would ratify a state law requiring small- and medium-sized businesses to provide health coverage for workers, according to a new Los Angeles Times Poll.

By contrast, two initiatives on American Indian gambling are trailing by large margins, despite being backed by tens of millions of dollars from Indian tribes and other gambling interests.

Those four are among the highest-profile of the 16 measures voters will be asked to decide upon in November.

The poll also found that Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer continues to enjoy a strong lead over her Republican challenger, Bill Jones, among voters likely to cast ballots in November, 52 percent to 34 percent with 11 percent undecided.

In a measure of the hurdle Jones faces, 42 percent said they did not know enough about him to have either a favorable or an unfavorable view. About a third of likely voters said they viewed him favorably while about a fifth viewed him unfavorably.

By contrast, Boxer, who is running for her third six-year term, had her highest approval ratings to date in a Times poll, with nearly six-in-10 voters saying they approved of the job she was doing.

Among the minor party candidates for the Senate seat -- Libertarian James P. Gray, an Orange County, Calif., Superior Court judge; Peace and Freedom candidate Marsha Feinland, an Oakland schoolteacher; and American Independent candidate Don J. Grundmann, a chiropractor from San Leandro, none received more than 1 percent support. No Green Party candidate is running.

Boxer may be benefiting from a more positive feeling that voters appear to have about the direction of the state and the job performance of elected officials. The voter mood is a sharp contrast to a year ago when then-Gov. Gray Davis faced a recall and more than three-quarters of registered voters said they believed the state was headed in the wrong direction.

Now, 46 percent of registered voters surveyed said they think the state is headed in the right direction, with 44 percent saying the state is on the wrong track. Reflecting economic figures that have shown improvement statewide, more than half of those surveyed, 52 percent, said they believed the state's economy was doing well as compared with 45 percent who said it was doing somewhat or very badly. The finding marked the first time since 2002 that a majority said the economy was doing well.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, continues to enjoy very high ratings, with 66 percent of registered voters saying they approve of his performance in office and 61 percent saying he is "working hard to bring real change." Only 27 percent disapprove of his performance, and 33 percent said he has mostly brought "business as usual."

Even the Legislature, a perennial target of voter dismay, has improved its ratings a little, with 38 percent of voters saying they approved of the body's work, compared with 34 percent this spring. Almost half of registered voters surveyed, 48 percent, said they disapproved.

The poll, supervised by Times poll director Susan Pinkus, surveyed 1,320 registered voters of whom 861 were considered likely to vote in November. It was conducted statewide from September 17-21. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points

A major factor in the initiative campaigns could be advertising. Voters reported low awareness of the initiatives.

After being read the ballot descriptions, those registered voters who are most likely to vote in November said by 54 percent to 32 percent that they planned to support Proposition 71, which would provide a 10-year, $3 billion state fund for embryonic stem cell research. Fourteen percent said they remained undecided.

Supporters of the initiative have raised more than $13 million and plan to kick off an intensive television campaign Friday. Opponents have raised less than $200,000 and say they will rely on news coverage and less expensive efforts to get their message across. A statement opposing the measure, for example, was distributed in some Catholic churches recently, reflecting the position of the state's bishops.

On the Indian gambling measures, the advertising campaigns, which already have been on the air for several weeks, do not appear to have helped supporters.

Poll respondents who agreed to follow up interviews repeatedly said they found the two gambling initiatives confusing and said that both the advertising and the explanations they had seen of the propositions had raised more questions for them.

The measures both are behind by margins that in the past have doomed initiatives.

Proposition 68, which would break the monopoly that Indian tribes have on slot machines and allow card clubs and racetracks to install 30,000 slots, was supported by 33 percent of likely voters surveyed, with 46 percent opposed and 21 percent undecided.

Proposition 70, a competing measure, also was trailing badly. It would require the governor to allow unlimited Indian gaming for all federally recognized tribes and require the tribes, in turn, to pay taxes on their net gaming income at the rate set for corporations. Under the measure, that tax would disappear if any non-Indian gambling facilities were allowed to have slot machines.

Among likely voters, 28 percent said they supported Proposition 70, 48 percent said they were opposed and 24 percent said they were undecided.

On the health-care referendum, 51 percent of likely voters said after hearing the ballot description that they would support it, while 29 percent said they were opposed and 20 percent undecided.

Business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce and the restaurant industry, placed the referendum on the ballot hoping to overturn a law passed last year that would require businesses with more than 50 workers to provide health-care coverage or pay into a state fund created for the same purpose.

Because the measure is a referendum, a "yes" vote would keep the law in place and a "no" vote would repeal it.

Times staff writer Scott Martelle contributed to this report.

Paid for by YES on 71: Coalition for Stem Cell Research and Cures, #1260661
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