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Calif. Prop 23: Environmentalists Hold Fund-Raising and Mobilization Advantage In Battle Over Greenhouse Gas Limits

In California, 2/3 of voters still remain relatively unaware of Proposition 23, a ballot measure backed by out-of-state oil and gas companies that would end California’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. As election day approaches, if environmentalists are going to defeat the proposition, they will need to reach this sizable bloc of inattentive voters with a credible and compelling message while also ensuring that their base turns out to vote in high numbers.

The good news for greens is that in the final weeks of the campaign, they appear to hold a substantial fund-raising edge and a significant mobilization advantage.  Here are some key details to consider and to watch:

Polling Trends

  • A Sept. 23 Field Poll reveals the challenge for green groups.  A plurality of voters (45%) say they plan to vote “no” on Prop. 23 compared to 34% who say they plan to vote for the measure.  Opposition to the measure is greatest among Democrats (51% opposed) who make up 44% of registered voters in California and among Independents (54% opposed) who make up 20% of voters.  Among Republicans, 47% favor the measure compared to 33% who oppose.
    • Yet 21% of all voters say that they remain undecided and this figure breaks similarly across partisan identity.  And perhaps most importantly, 63% of voters say they haven’t seen or heard anything about Proposition 23.  These numbers suggest that the preferences of many voters still remain very soft.  Awareness, however, does appear to be correlated with opposition to the ballot measure: 57% of those who say they have seen or heard about the issue, say they oppose it.
    • [update 10.5.10] An IPSOS/Reuters poll released today shows that 49% of registered voters oppose Prop. 23 compared to 37% in favor and 14% who say they don’t know.  Among Independents, 52% oppose the measure, 23% support, and 25% don’t know.
    • Fund-Raising Trends

      • Stoked by an Aug. 30 New Yorker cover article by Jane Mayer  and a Sept. 16 NY Times front page report, the narrative has been that environmental groups face an unfair battle in California, with out of state oil and gas interests out-spending and out-gunning green groups. Fortunately, this doesn’t appear to be the case with green groups holding their own in terms of fund-raising and with a major advantage in mobilization strategy and political endorsements.
        • As of late September, Solve Climate reports that environmentalists, supported by California’s clean technology venture capitalists, had raised more than $11 million dollars compared to a little more than $8 million by oil, gas, and conservative groups backing Prop. 23. While greens fear that contributions from oil and gas might surge ahead to $25-30 million by election day, they still remain well financed and estimate that their fund-raising will hit at least $15-18 million.
        • Political Endorsements and Mobilization

          • Greens also have the advantage of support from state leadership, most notably Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who has sparked media attention with his statements opposing the proposition. 
            • Similarly, relative to endorsements, it appears that greens are also likely to hold editorial support from almost every major newspaper in the state.
              • The strongest advantage for greens might be their vast voter network and grass-roots organization in California.  The Sierra Club is mobilizing their 200,000 state members and in a sign of an energized based, Sierra hosted a kick-off conference call that drew 23,000 participants.  In late September, the Union of Concerned Scientists organized more than 80 house parties across the state and the League of Conservation Voters have been holding events across the state. 
                • Green groups are also complementing their face-to-face organizing with phone banks and sophisticated social media sites including the Sierra Club’s, Credo’s, and the No campaign’s
                • “Yes on 23” TV Advertising Strategy

                  • In comparison, with almost no state network to draw upon except for relatively diffuse organizing by Tea Party activists, the campaign in support of Proposition 23 exists almost exclusively on the airwaves. The major focus of “Yes on Prop. 23” advertising is to frame the issue in terms of the economy.  Proponents also play on a clever heuristic for voters, arguing that the rollback of greenhouse gas regulation would only be temporary.  As the woman in the ad below tells viewers: “All Yes on 23 says, is let’s wait until people are back to work, and we can afford it.”
                  • This claim, however, is misleading.  The proposition would freeze regulation of emissions until the unemployment rate drops to 5.5% or below for four consecutive quarters, an event that has occurred only three times since 1976, therefore making the freeze virtually permanent.  Few voters, however, are likely to be aware of this implication.
                  • “No on 23” TV Advertising Strategy

                    • Prop 23 backers have crafted an effective ad, and greens have taken to the airwaves to make sure that voters are aware of the deceptive claims.  In their response, they focus on an accountability message of out-of-state oil companies attempting to fool California voters.  You can see the spot below.
                      • In other ads, green groups also focus on a “1-2-3” message to “Stop the Dirty Energy” proposition, offering voters what are essentially four main arguments packaged together on why they should vote against the measure: 1) These are out of state oil companies trying to fool you, 2) the measure would harm public health by “polluting our air,” 3) it would cost jobs by hurting the clean energy sector in the state and 4) it would keep California addicted to foreign oil.  See below.
                        • In this case, packaging four arguments in one ad, might be a risk.  The Yes on Prop 23 campaign has one simple message resonating with the economic fears of voters.  This ad might be trying in one 30 second spot to appeal to too many different voter segments.
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