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Prop 37 is a dead heat, latest poll says

By Hank Schultz , 01-Nov-2012
Last updated on 01-Nov-2012 at 14:43 GMT

California’s Proposition 37, once considered a shoo-in after earlier poll results, is now looking like a dead heat, according to a Los Angeles Times poll.

In the most recent poll, when asked how they would vote if the election were held tomorrow, 44% of voters surveyed said they would vote yes on the measure, while 42% would vote no.  That’s a huge swing from a poll that ended on Sept. 23, in which 61% said they’d vote yes, with 25% in the no column. In both cases, a significant 14% of voters surveyed said they didn’t know how they’d vote.

“They have certainly made headway with their unbelievably deceptive campaign,” Stacy Malkin, media director for the Yes on 37 campaign, told NutraIngredients-USA. “It’s really incredible to watch how that has played out.”

The No on 37 group has raised $44.3 million to fund its campaign as of Wednesday, spokeswoman Kathy Fairbanks said.  The money has enabled the group to put up a heavy blitz of radio and television advertising, which has obviously had an effect.

By contrast, the Right to Know campaign that supports a yes vote on Prop 37 has a much smaller war chest.

“We’ve been able to raise over $6 million for the campaign, so that’s the good news in this,” said Steve Hoffman, a Colorado-based communications consultant who works with campaign.

Waiting for the decisive moment

The Right to Know group has relied on some radio advertising up to now, as well as an active and well-organized social media campaign.  The group has a television ad that is starting to be shown in California.  Because of its financial situation, the group decided to hold the ad until what it considered to be the most strategic time before the election.

“We conserved our resources to have a final push at the end, and you just have to have a certain amount of saturation to have an effect,” Malkin said.

And, she said, the organization is relying on old-fashioned boot leather politicking.

“We have a huge ground game with 10,000 volunteers out there,” she said.

The unanswerable question is whether they may have waited too long.  As many as 50% of California voters have requested mail in ballots, Fairbanks said.  With poll numbers no longer trending in favor of a yes vote on the proposition, it’s a fair bet that many votes have already been cast against the measure, which could be a deciding factor if the outcome is tight.

Volatile electorate

But the electorate is malleable, Malkin said. “The poll shows that the voters are really volatile.”

The poll numbers show more than just volatility, in Fairbanks’ opinion.

“It shows a trend that we have seen now since voters received their ballot information booklets and they realize that it is not just a simple labeling issue,” she said.

In addition to apparently swaying the opinion of voters, the No on 37 campaign has had significant success in persuading the editorial boards of the state’s newspapers.  The circulation and influence of daily newspapers is in steep decline, but for the moment their voices still matter in American politics.

“We’ve got 41 newspaper editorials against Prop. 37,” Fairbanks said.

Bounty hunter clause

One of the key sticking points for opponents of Prop 37 is the initiative’s private enforcement provision, allowing citizens (via law firms that make a lucrative specialty out of these sorts of lawsuits) to sue companies to force compliance, lawsuits that can be brought without any evidence of the plaintiffs having been harmed by a company’s actions.  Drawing on the bitter and expensive experience with the lawsuits that have arisen out of California’s Prop 65, which has a similar “bounty hunter” type enforcement provision, the major trade organizations in the dietary supplements business, such as the Council for Responsible Nutrition and the Natural Products Association have come out against the proposition.

Proponents of the measure say that Prop 37’s clause is sufficiently different from the one in Prop 65 that the two aren’t comparable.

“I think there has been much hysteria,” about the enforcement clause, Malkin said, which misses the point.  Malkin said the message of Prop 37 is clear.

“It asks companies to do one thing and that’s provide information. If they do that honestly that’s the end of the story.”

The bottom line, Malkin said, is “people want this information.”

On the other side of the coin, Fairbanks said voters are getting the message on Prop 37.

“They realize that it is not just a simple labeling issue; they realize they will end up paying for that in the grocery store,” she said.

“What voters are voting on and what voters are reacting to is Prop 37 in its entirety. The poll numbers are certainly heading the right direction.”

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