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Money and Democracy



Polling on Proposition 29 (tobacco taxes) gives us an interesting opportunity to see how well our democracy is functioning.  Here are a bunch of numbers, but they do tell a story.

In late February, a poll by the Public Policy Institute showed 67% of likely voters supported Prop 29 and 30% opposed, with 3% undecided.  The statistical margin of error is 3.4%, so what the poll indicates is that 64-70% favored Prop 29 and 27-33% opposed.

FOR 29 (FEB):






In mid-May, the same outfit repeated the same poll and found 53% supported Prop 29 and 42% were opposed.  Undecided had risen to 5%.

FOR 29 (MAY):






On June 5, Prop 29 went down, with 51% of those voting opposing the proposition.

FOR 29 (JUNE):




What had changed?  Big Tobacco had poured approximately $47 million into a campaign to change people’s votes.  Philip Morris (Altria) had put in $28 million.  RJ Reynolds had put in $11 million. The supporters of Prop 29 reported about $12 million in funds.





About 17 million Californians are registered to vote, out of about 24 million persons eligible to vote.  About 3.8 million people voted for or against Prop 29 — that’s about one out of five registered voters, or one out of seven of those eligible to vote.







In a state with a population of 37,000,000, Proposition 29 was defeated by a margin of 65,000 votes only three months after it led likely voters by a two to one landslide.

At the least, perhaps this is food for thought.

  1. June 6, 2012 at 9:18 am

    And Walmart put a bunch of money into a zoning change on the balloon tract. They lost. Your point?

    In a state with a population of 37,000,000, Proposition 29 was defeated by a margin of 65,000 votes only three
    months after it led likely voters by a two to one landslide.

    Would it have made any difference to you if the results were the same with 100% turnout?

    Might it just be that after people start thinking about an issue, as opposed to the knee- jerk lynch mob reaction they started out with, some might have changed their minds?

    Actually, last I read says Prop 29 was still undecided, but my comments could apply to any other race or issue.

  2. Mitch
    June 6, 2012 at 9:22 am

    “Might it just be that after people start thinking about an issue, as opposed to the knee- jerk lynch mob reaction they started out with, some might have changed their minds?”

    Sure, Fred, that’s certainly one theory that fits the facts.

  3. Anonymous
    June 6, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Might it be, fred, that people have thought about the issue before speaking out against it? Your term “lynch mob” and “knee-jerk” does not apply. You certainly always have YOUR mind made up.

  4. Bolithio
    June 6, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Maybe if we added some O’s to the X’s, the world would be a better place.


  5. June 6, 2012 at 10:07 am

    You certainly always have YOUR mind made up.

    I certainly had my mind up on Prop 29 as soon as I heard of it, but that was based on facts and political philosophy- one thing Joe and Jill Sixpack really don’t have or care about.

    Think that’s an exaggeration? Look no further than political opinion polls that often seem to change day to day. How can opinions change that often? On many issues my mind does not change.

    It’s because most people aren’t like those of us here that dwell on this crap every day. They’re going to work. Dealing with their kids after school sports and generally…I guess you’d call it living. When asked a question about an issue they’ll often answer based on emotion as they often spent little, if any, time thinking about it before the poll question was asked.

    I’m sure many people originally thought Prop 29 was good because …smoking bad. businesses bad= Prop 29 good”. Then they get input from various sources that have them thinking it’s not as clear cut as they thought.

    So public opinion changed. The money did help as I’m sure the TV and radio ads did expose people to different ways of looking at it. But a fair number of newspapers opposed Prop 29 and I’m sure some might have changed their opinions after reading comments to those papers and even blogs.

    Money is only an issue to those whose opponents won and had more of it than the loser did.

  6. Mitch
    June 6, 2012 at 10:14 am


    I suppose anything is worth a try.

  7. jr
    June 6, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Although I support the numerous arguments made by Mitch in previous postings regarding a Yes vote on Prop 29, I voted no simply because regulation of tobacco needs to come from legislation and not from surcharges in the form of taxes. Taxes simply take additional money from users of tobacco who will find a way to purchase tobacco at the expense of other items (perhaps food?) If society wishes to control the use of tobacco then our elected leaders need to introduce legislation to do so.

  8. grackle
    June 6, 2012 at 10:21 am

    Wouldn’t this measure have required a 67% for vote to pass as a tax increase? Everything I read this morning seems to view it as a narrow loss for the tax, but I thought Californians had, in their wisdom, required all tax proposals to be super majorities. If that is the case it wasn’t even close.

    Probably the money against the tax stirred up distrust of new taxes, fear of bureaucracy, distrust of the legislature to govern as well as a little conscience in voting for taxes one knew most people wouldn’t have to pay. On the other hand, I’ve noticed over a lot of years that the voters often are quite sophisticated in these things. For instance ten or twelve years ago the insurance industry tried to squash the initiative to reform auto insurance and was badly beaten even after it threw millions of dollars and a competing proposition at the measure. People get all sensitive when “they” are going to spend “my” money.

  9. HUUFC
    June 6, 2012 at 10:30 am

    I was against prop. 29 from the begining and voted against it yesterday. Only because history demonstrates that any tax dollars sent to Sacramento would be spent irresponsibly and also be overspent adding to the deficit. The democrats just cannot help themselves. I hope it stays defeated.

  10. Thirdeye
    June 6, 2012 at 10:37 am

    Any State tax not dedicated to the State’s coffers in this fiscal environment is a bad idea. “Let’s get tough on (criminals, illegal immigrants, drug users, drinkers, smokers, big tobacco, etc.)” is a form of manipulation that’s gotten old.

  11. SNaFU
    June 6, 2012 at 11:27 am

    People in power or w/political clout sleep at night dreaming up what demise they can put on the next ballot.

  12. Anonymous
    June 6, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    “Money is only an issue to those whose opponents won and had more of it than the loser did.”

    Forget everything you just wrote because there you are demonstrating the ridiculously stupid and uncompromisingly bias headstate in which you permanently exist.

  13. June 6, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    …you just wrote because there you are demonstrating the ridiculously stupid and uncompromisingly bias headstate….

    Then explain to me how Walmart lost their bid to rezone the Balloon Tract after spending all their money. I’m sure we can come up with other examples.

    Sometimes those with the most money win. Sometimes they lose.

    What would be interesting is to find some of the mythical polled folks (assuming that’s possible) that changed their vote on the issue over those “few short months”. I’d love to hear what changed their minds. All the ones we’re hearing from now seem to be those like me that had their minds made up from the beginning.

  14. Anonymous
    June 6, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Because it was walmart advertised as walmart. Nobody was given an option over the new walmart. And furthermore, rezoning has happened en masse.

    “all the ones we’re hearing from now” are who? You’re talking out your ass…again….new day, same bullshit…over and over and over.

  15. June 6, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Nope. Walmart spend a lot of money on an election to change zoning. If money means so much, they should have won.

    “All the ones we’re hearing from now…” are comments from this blog that said they were against Prop 29 from the beginning, dumb shit. I have yet to hear from anybody- here, or elsewhere- who said they supported it at first but changed their mind for one reason or another.

    You would think with such a massive change in opinion, as Heraldo supposedly illustrated from poll results over a 3 month period, there would be someone around that would be able to tell us why they changed their mind and the proposition went from supposed overwhelming support to a bare majority opposing.

    I get the impression 2:10 won’t understand that, either.

  16. SOmewhat HUMan
    June 9, 2012 at 2:04 am

    Big Tobacco put micro-chips in every one’s head, programmed to make them change their minds. I read it on the web.

  17. Mitch
    June 9, 2012 at 6:58 am

    They didn’t need to. It was much less expensive to blanket the state with advertising instead. For only $45-50 million, they were able to get the necessary number of people to change their minds.

    No need for micro-chips, which might upset the press. This way, the press gets paid for carrying the ads. It’s like a consolation prize for having sold their souls.

    Democracy depends upon an electorate that cannot be easily manipulated. It has not kept up with technology — the science of manipulation has led to far more powerful techniques and strategies.

  18. 713
    June 9, 2012 at 7:16 am

    Yes, like blogs.

  19. Anonymous
    June 9, 2012 at 7:22 am

    Religion is still the most powerful controlling force over the human mind. I wonder if believers in religion are more susceptible to believing propaganda than the nonreligious.

  20. Mitch
    June 9, 2012 at 7:59 am


    I assume you’re joking.

    Blogs are one of the few remaining places that an average citizen can speak up without paying anyone and realistically hope that they are heard by people not within earshot.

    I’m sure entities like Big Tobacco pay boiler rooms to astroturf popular blogs, but the majority of the comments are still what individuals believe.

    The entire media complex, in our economic system, exists solely to collect eyeballs for advertisers. Everything media companies do is driven by that, because they are commercial businesses whose only income comes from advertising. The only exceptions are non-commercial outlets.

    The conflict between being a public service and being an eyeball-gatherer has been inherent in the media since it began, but eyeball-gathering has long since won the tug-of-war.

  21. 713
    June 9, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Mitch, are you saying that blogs like this and the mirror are not manipulative?

    I agree they are great outlets and if you have good content, for very little money you can broadcast a message. But, and it is a big BUT, I believe the purpose of this and many blogs is not so much a public service as a tool to get a message out about a certain political perspective.

    It seems a little manipulative to me that periodically when people say one thing or another, Heraldo chimes in with a, “i know who you are” statement. Wouldn’t you agree that has a chilling effect on certain types of comments?

  22. Mitch
    June 9, 2012 at 11:35 am


    Of course this blog has a political perspective. There’s nothing wrong with that, because the next blog down the block has a different political perspective, and if someone doesn’t like either, it takes them $0 and 5 minutes to set up their own. They’ll build an audience or not depending on how valuable people consider them.

    Note the difference from the media: the barriers to entry in broadcast television are huge, making it a semi-monopoly. What you get for your money is a license to use public property in the public interest — a portion of the radio spectrum that is allocated in our name by the government. How much do you think the media companies are devoted to the public interest in their programming?

    The barriers to entry are not as high in radio, but it’s hardly within the financial ability of the average citizen who doesn’t happen to be a Wall Street crook or refugee.

    If you don’t happen to own a tv or radio station, you can always pay the owner to carry your ad, if they are willing. That gives you the right to send out your message over a public resource for 30 seconds, because that resource has been licensed to someone with a lot of money.

    As for Heraldo saying “I know who you are,” I think it’s a bit pointless, but I certainly understand how fed up s/he/y can become with some of the regular liars on their blog. Besides, unless somebody has thoughtfully provided their real email address, Heraldo can’t know who they are — s/he/y can only know the IP address a comment came from and the writing style. Hardly perfect information. And Heraldo is far from the only participant in the “I know who you are” competition.

    If you are that serious about your anonymity that you don’t want your IP address tracked, go use a library computer or send from a coffeeshop or check out programs like Tor. If you are “chilled” but not willing to do either, I don’t think you’re very chilled.

  23. 713
    June 9, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Msnbc, fox have different perspectives as well. It is strange when people disagree with you, you think they were manipulated. Maybe they just don’t agree? I voted for the tobacco tax. My mailbox was flooded with mailers. I read them, but I really had to think about that one, mostly due to the arguments I read on this blog. Was I manipulated?

  24. tra
    June 9, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    I voted for it, despite my misgivings about the regressive nature of the tobacco taxes.

  25. Mitch
    June 9, 2012 at 1:59 pm


    MSNBC and Fox are cable networks, I think. Cable has a lot more room and so different opinions can be represented.

    I don’t think you were manipulated 713. I think mailers from some mysterious group warning them of a mysterious tax increase that will create a mysterious, unaccountable bureaucracy that won’t guarantee their taxes will remain in California are attempting to manipulate people, especially when the word tobacco never appears in the mailers. I don’t know what the TV and radio ads were like, but I’d imagine they were as bad.

    I used to feel that many people honorably came to different conclusions than I do, based on the same set of facts but different perspectives. To be blunt, I haven’t felt that way in ten or twenty years. I’m not sure whether it started with the Clinton impeachment, the Swift Boat Vets, or the crooked supreme court, but I don’t think it’s fair competition based on real facts any more. There are still some people who honorably come to different conclusions, but I think the right wins by manipulating the public.

  26. 713
    June 9, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    So the right wins by manipulating the public, how do you explain how the left wins?

  27. Mitch
    June 9, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    It doesn’t, so no worries.

  28. Mitch
    June 9, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    President Obama is as left-wing on economic matters as you’d expect someone who was funded by Goldman Sachs to be. Look who he put in, and look at how the banks have made out.

    The reason some on the right think he’s a “leftist” is that he’s a grownup.

  29. walt
    June 9, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    Eight years after his presidency Bill and Hillary were worth $100 mil. Let’s see in eight years what Barack and Michele are worth. There’s ALWAYS a quid pro quo.

  30. 713
    June 9, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    Ok Mitch, the left never wins, especially here in CA.

  31. Mitch
    June 10, 2012 at 6:51 am


    We clearly have a different definition of “the left.” I don’t consider the mainstream California Democratic Party to be “the left.” You apparently do.

    Even thinking specifically of mainstream California politics, what I’ve seen is a decent meritocrat, Gray Davis, /recalled/ over an energy crisis that was pushed on him by the federal Bush administration working with friends at Enron and Schwarzenegger’s people.

    Now, after Schwarzenegger, we have another decent meritocrat whose big task is presiding over the amputation of our public sector. Although the Democrats are nominally in charge, they have no power to raise money because of the supermajorities needed.

    That’s not my idea of a “winning” left.

    Yes, California has powerful public sector unions — that’s not the same thing as having a left. In too many cases — there are exceptions — the public sector unions are about nothing more than their power and the salary packages given to their members. It sometimes feel like they have no more interest in the welfare of the typical Californian than big business has.

  32. Independant
    June 10, 2012 at 8:29 am

    Some people make a living pulling numbers from the sky polls and speculating on them (not Mitch in particular) so they have things to discuss ad nauseum come the day after an election. Perhaps it’s time to write legislation that bases a “win” on not just majority percentages, but also % of voter turn out. For example, you leave the majority requirements in place, but make them flexible if say, less than 50% of voters turn out. If 40% turnout, then that 51% or 60% majority goes up to let’s say 65% and 80%.

    More and more we see some contested candidate win 55% of a vote with only 35% even bothering to show up at the polls or even reurn an absentee ballot. I’m really tiring of people winning positions where they actually should not have won in a representative government. Some of that blame goes back to apathetic voters, but you can’t force 100% turnout without holding a gun to voter’s heads, and even then that’s a coerced vote. But enough of these guys getting elected with a couple handfuls of voters. Seems like an easy way to win.

  33. Mitch
    June 10, 2012 at 11:25 am

    Suppressing your opponent’s turnout through negative advertising has become as much a path to victory as getting people to vote for you.

    Under Citizens United, its easy. You don’t even have to attach your name to the negative ads. And, as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth demonstrated, you don’t need to be telling the truth about the candidate you’ve gone negative on.

    Swift Boats accomplished the amazing task of electing a draft dodger by complaining that a war hero was unpatriotic.

  34. High Finance
    June 11, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Oh spare us your false indignation Mitch.

    You voted for the draft dodger, Bill Clinton, over the war hero George H.W. Bush.

  35. Mitch
    June 11, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Point to HiFi. But you’ll note that nobody ever took out ads claiming that George H. W. Bush was not a war hero, and nobody ever dressed Bill Clinton up in a flyboy outfit.

  36. Mission Accomplished
    June 11, 2012 at 10:52 am

    “the war hero George H.W. Bush.” ????

  37. Mission Accomplished
    June 11, 2012 at 10:53 am

    His greatest victory was the gift of his son W to the people of planet earth.

  38. Mitch
    June 11, 2012 at 12:03 pm


    HW enlisted at 18 after Pearl Harbor, was a Navy pilot, served in combat, was shot down during a battle, and delayed college until the end of WW II. Different than W, who was trained to fly at our expense in order to protect Texas from the Viet Cong, but then couldn’t be bothered to carry out his token assignment.

    Whatever you think of war, the father was a very different human being than the son.

  39. High Finance
    June 11, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    I believe he was shot down more than once but people remember the one time he was filmed being rescued by the American submarine.

    His 88th birthday is tomorrow.

  40. What Now
    June 11, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    Somehow, the armed services claimed they were able to locate the plane old man Bush ditched in the middle of the Pacific (leaving his co-pilot to die), “verifying” the former CIA Director’s contentiion that there was nothing he could do for his teammate/
    This same august investigative committee has yet to find any trace of the several billion dollars the Pentagon reported missing on September 10,2001.
    At least the old man had the courage and integrity to admit that the U.S.’s initial assault on Iraq (Opertaion Desert Storm) WAS “all about the price of gas at the pumps”.

  41. Mitch
    June 11, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    What Now,

    GHW Bush was serving in a combat zone and had his plane shot down.

    It’s unfair and insulting to suggest that he served with anything but complete honor, regardless of what you may think of his later policies as CIA director, President, or dog-catcher. To do so is little different than what the Swift Boat phonies pulled on John Kerry, another child of privilege who actually saw combat.

    It’s hard to remember that as little as 60 years ago even children of privilege felt it was their obligation to go to war when the country was attacked. Now, “service” for the wealthy means taking one’s seat in Congress, and sending other people’s kids to war.

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