Morrison Institute Poll: 3 of 4 AZ voters find ballot initiatives too complex
Oct. 30, 2012
In addition to selecting a slew of candidates, Arizonans must decipher nine ballot initiatives – with nearly three-quarters of voters saying they often find the measures too complicated and confusing to fully understand, according to a Morrison Institute Poll.
Sixty percent of those surveyed in the recent statewide poll say they just try to do the best they can on the propositions, using their limited knowledge.
More than 20 percent of voters don’t vote one way or the other on measures they find unfamiliar, while 5.5 percent of respondents simply vote “no” on ballot propositions they feel they do not have enough information to understand, according to the statewide poll conducted just prior to Early Voting beginning on Oct. 11.
Arizona’s 2012 ballot measures cover everything from a permanent 1-cent sales tax for education to changing how judges are selected to switching to a top-two, nonpartisan open primary.
“Since voters are making important statewide decisions, often affecting millions of their fellow citizens, the fact that so many often don’t understand what they are voting on draws into question the validity of these votes. These findings argue strongly for an improved process to educate the public on initiatives,” said Dr. David Daugherty, director of research at Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
Experiencing similar barriers in its initiative process, Oregon this summer launched its Citizens' Initiative Review (CIR), which is supported by the Oregon Legislature, Governor and Secretary of State.
Under the process, 24 individuals representing a demographic sampling of Oregon voters gathered for five days to evaluate a high-profile ballot measure and craft easy-to-understand pro and con findings about the measure. The citizen group's recommendation for passage or rejection was publicly disseminated, along with the group's breakdown of their vote.
Healthy Democracy Oregon, a nonprofit organization that supports a more informed and engaged electorate, served as a neutral facilitator in the CIR process.
In Arizona, town hall meetings and various methods by the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office educate voters on the ballot propositions – including a description of each ballot initiative with pros and cons in the voter guide.
Morrison Institute issues an informative series called “Understanding Arizona’s Propositions,” which examines all ballot measures from a neutral and pro/con perspective so voters can make better-informed decisions.
Despite these efforts, Arizona voters across gender, age and political party categories often find the propositions confusing and complex.
“As a result, voters too often rely on the bombardment of half-truths and misleading but influential TV commercials, mailers and other political advertising from the various well-financed campaigns pushing or resisting a ballot proposition,” said Joseph Garcia, director of the Morrison Institute Latino Public Policy Center and a former political writer and editor.
Garcia was among the out-of-state observers invited to examine the Oregon pilot program to explore whether a similar CIR project perhaps could improve Arizona voters’ understanding and confidence in voting on complex ballot measures in the 2014 election.
“It was encouraging to see so much citizen involvement in active democracy. The people – strangers from around the state, from all walks of life and political persuasions – took their task most seriously, understanding their group’s role as representative of everyday voters looking for substance instead of spin on complex issues,” Garcia said.
Oregon's CIR findings were released to the public in various forms, including being featured as the first entry of the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office voter information pamphlet. Arizona has a similar voter pamphlet but with no CIR take since there is no citizens' review here.
“Getting voters to the polls is difficult enough without making it confusing for them when they arrive,” Daugherty said. “While in an ideal world every voter arrives at the polls fully educated on the candidates and initiatives, the simple truth is, many don’t think much about it until they arrive to vote. It is, I believe, incumbent on the state to provide clear, straightforward explanations of the initiatives for the voters so they can make an informed decision.”
The Morrison Institute Poll consisted of 709 phone interviews with registered voters statewide, conducted Oct. 4-10 in English and Spanish by the Behavior Research Center. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.