Hold Politicians Accountable – Yes on Proposition 11

In April 2008, the partners of Redwood Pacific Public Affairs were retained to manage the campaign to qualify and pass Proposition 11 – a legislative redistricting reform measure slated for the November 2008 General Election ballot. Proponents of the measure included AARP, California Common Cause, the League of Women Voters of California, and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. The proponents were also joined by Governor Schwarzenegger in their support of the proposed initiative, which would create a 14-person independent citizens commission to draw California legislative districts, rather than the existing system where legislators drew their own districts.

Research had long shown strong voter support for the concept of redistricting reform, but polling on the specific measure showed initial support under 50% – likely due to low voter awareness and lack of knowledge of the issue. Conventional wisdom states that to be successful in a “yes” campaign, initial polling should find support at 50% or higher.

Due to the longest budget impasse in California history and the Legislature’s failure to address pressing state problems like education and health care reform, California voter displeasure was at an all time high in 2008. The campaign tapped this voter displeasure and the state and national movement for “change” for Prop. 11’s key messaging – drawing the correlation between legislators drawing their own legislative districts and virtually guaranteeing their own re-election to the idea that they were thus, unaccountable to voters and had no incentive to tackle the state’s tough problems.

Despite the favorable climate in which to promote this government reform, Prop. 11 faced significant hurdles. Redistricting is not a top of mind issue nor well understood by most voters. And promoting a “Yes” vote to solve a problem for which voters were not focused or do not know existed, posed a huge challenge. Further, the opposition attempted to paint the measure as a “Republican power grab,” unfair to minorities and overly complicated. Raising doubts and confusing voters in this environment could have easily led to the defeat of Prop. 11.

To overcome these challenges, the Yes on 11 campaign built an extraordinarily diverse and broad-based coalition and made a concerted and successful effort at neutralizing opposition and their fundraising capabilities. Combined with a ripe political climate in which to run the measure, targeted and disciplined messaging, aggressive earned media and targeted paid media, the Yes on Proposition 11 campaign prevailed on Election Day by a margin of 51% yes to 49% no vote.  This was truly a historic win – one that “conventional wisdom” said could not be won.

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