New survey: Oklahomans, and Americans, value and support initiative process

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 30-Jul-2010

SAN FRANCISCO – A poll taken in each of the 50 American states has found overwhelming support for the initiative and referendum process, a new study from Citizens in Charge Foundation has found.

Additionally, assertions that fraudulent practices mar the processes of direct democracy may be more myth than reality, based on information from 20 of the 26 states that have the initiative, referendum or both. Further, spending the most money does not always guarantee victory in ballot proposition campaigns.

The high support for direct democracy includes Oklahoma, where 65% of likely voters favor the process, with only 12% opposed, and 23% uncertain. Oklahoma became a state in 1907, and has included the I&R process since the founding constitution.

The positive views about the initiative process and other findings were released in San Francisco today (Friday, July 30) a few hours before the state of the U.S. Conference on the Initiative, part of the Global Forum on Direct Democracy.

Support ranged from 79% in South Dakota, to as “low” as 58% in Hawaii, a non-initiative where only 21% oppose the system.  In North Dakota, where the process entered American history in 1898, 73% of likely voters supported the initiative and referendum. 

Although not a national poll, the average across the 50 states was 67% in favor, with only 14 percent opposed. 

In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, Paul Jacob of the Citizens in Charge Foundation said that across the nation, no one demographic comes across as dramatically any more or less supportive of the process: “In some states, you might find conservatives or Republicans somewhat more supportive, but that is not the case in all the states.”

Pulse Opinion Research conducted the poll of the 50 states for Citizens in Charge Foundation. The sample consisted of 500 likely votes in all 50 states, for a total sample of size of 25,000. The sampling error is pegged at +/- 4.5%.  The surveys were conducted from May 26 to July 19 of this year.

Respondents in each state were asked this question: “In 26 states, citizens can sign a petition to put laws or constitutional amendments on the ballot to be decided by the voters at a statewide election. This process is known as initiative and referendum. Would you favor or oppose the initiative and referendum process in your state?”

In other findings being unveiled during the Global Forum, a study by the foundation’s Truth in Governance Report found only 17 cases of documented fraud in initiative petitioning over the 10 years from 1999 to 2008. Convictions for fraud or forgery were rare, average only 1.7 a year for the 20 states from which substantial information was gathered. Government officials in the other six states, including Oklahoma, had not responded to the foundation’s requests for information.

Another investigation by the group details three major findings after an intensive investigation of the California initiative process in 2008. While some analysts contend ballot initiative campaigns allow non-Californians to dominate the process, the new report “Money in the Initiative Process” find that Californians contribute 84% of the total contributions in Golden State campaigns.

Second, the study of money’s impact found that 48% of contributions in those campaigns came in chunks of $1million or more at a time; and a significant majority were large donations of $10,000 or higher. The big money came from corporations, Indian tribes, labor unions and wealthy individuals.

Third, however, money does not guarantee success in initiative politics, the new study found. Numerous examples are being detailed in the study, including the example of Proposition 10 in 2008. In a particularly notable instance, supporters of the proposal to provide bonds for alternative fuel and renewable energy outspent opponents by a ratio of 161-1, yet lost the referendum battle.

Information on the new studies and some proceedings of the Global Forum on Direct Democracy will be posted soon on the website of Citizens in Charge Foundation (