Is polling a good way to qualify initiatives?

Robert Stern
… the third point I want to raise is the whole question of qualification. And I want to read something from our book because it deals with Ed Koupal. Ed Koupal sums up his technique of qualifying an initiative. This is what Ed says:

Generally, people who are getting signatures are too interested in their ideology to get the required number in the required time. We use the hoopla process. First you set up a table with six petitions taped to it and a sign in front that says, “Sign here.” One person sits at the table. Another person stands in front of it. That’s all you need, two people. While one person sits at the table, the other walks up to people and asks two questions. We operate on the old selling maxim that two yeses make a sale.

This is the used car salesman speaking, right? Two yeses make a sale.

First we ask them if they’re a registered voter. If they say, “yes,” to that, we ask if they’re registered in that county. If they say, “yes,” to that, we immediately push them to the table where the person is sitting, points to a petition, and says, “Sign here.”

That’s all they say: “Sign here.”

By this time, the person feels, “Oh goodie, I get to play,” and will sign it. If the table doesn’t get 80 signatures an hour using this method, it’s moved the next day.

“Sign here,” that’s all he would say. Now, there’s something in a sense that, I mean, the idea of circulating petitions was supposedly to, to get people to say, “Yes, I support this idea. I want to put this on the ballot.” But what we have found is, in my view, that circulating petitions through signatures is probably the worst way of determining whether people want to put something on the ballot. In California, if you have one million dollars, you will qualify any initiative. I guarantee, they guarantee it as a matter of fact. It’s, your money is returned to you if they don’t qualify the initiative, if you give the proponents a million dollars.

That’s just, I facetiously said, “Why not just pay the state the million dollars and just put it on the ballot? I mean, why go through that process? And let the state benefit by it.” That’s why I’m so delighted that you have as the alternative, a polling alternative. Now the prob-, and I want to hear from, from Ken Warren about this because when I suggest polls, people really react in horror and say, “Oh, that’s terrible. That’s a terrible way of qualifying.” But I think it is certainly a much more accurate way. And one suggestion might be to combine the two processes and, say, if you gather a certain number of signatures, let’s say, 1% or 0.5% just to show you’re serious or if you put up some money then you get the poll. You don’t automatically get a poll that puts you on the ballot. But I would hope that somebody would come up with a better process, and maybe the polling process is a better way, than signature gathering. Because signature gathering doesn’t mean anything in terms of any citizen interest in qualifying. Maybe it used to be that way but no longer.

Also see:

Warren, K. F. (2002). Qualifying initiatives by public opinion polling.
Act, Section 3-F-2

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