With less than two weeks before Election Day, Gov. Jerry Brown finds his high profile tax increase initiative going the wrong way - down in the polls and, for the first time in any publicly released poll, below majority support.
Wednesday night's survey from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California shows 48 percent of those polled say they support Brown's Proposition 30, down from 52 percent support in PPIC's September poll.
The difference seems to be all downward. In September, 40 percent of those surveyed were opposed to Prop 30 (8 percent undecided); in the new poll, opposition rose by the four points that disappeared from the support side (undecided voters remained at 8 percent).
The latest numbers aren't insurmountable, but likely to create a narrative in the next few days that Brown's signature goal of his third term in office is in real danger. It may also embolden the opposition, especially the political group that's raised millions for a joint No on 30/Yes on 32 effort, to redouble efforts to kill Brown's initiative.
PPIC also released new numbers on three other November initiatives: the alternative tax increase, Proposition 38 (39 percent yes, 53 percent no), the political cash limiting Proposition 32 (39 percent yes, 53 percent no), and the governance-focused Proposition 31 (24 percent yes, 48 percent no).
Digging into the detailed numbers on Prop 30, the PPIC poll finds the strongest typical supporter is... based on the subgroups... a young Bay Area Latino Democrat who rents a home or apartment. In almost every other section of voters, there are noticeable weaknesses. Prop 30 has yet to make the case with self-described moderates (49 percent support); middle-income voters (48 percent yes); and parents of kids in public schools (45 percent support).
That last group - school parents - is worth highlighting, because the Yes on 30 campaign has focused its TV ads and events on promoting the benefits for education and the $6 billion in automatic budget cuts (mostly to schools) that will be triggered should the initiative fail.
But that's clearly not moving the needle; a resounding 74 percent of likely voters surveyed by PPIC oppose the budget "trigger" cuts, and 58 percent of them also oppose Prop 30 -- the only thing that apparently will stop those trigger cuts from taking effect. That's a contradiction Team Brown will have to sort out, if it can, in the days remaining.
And speaking of Team Brown, advisers say their own internal polls show Prop 30 doing better. Nonetheless, said adviser Dan Newman by email Wednesday night. "[PPIC] is yet another poll showing voters continue to support Prop 30 even after facing a barrage of negative attack ads."
That reference may include a new squabble about Prop 30 and whether it would impact the state's gas tax - a fight Prop 30 opponents would love to provoke given the headlines about high gas prices.
The other solace the governor can take in this poll: Prop 30 supporters say they're more engaged than the measure's opponents. 65 percent of supporters call the outcome of the battle very important, compared to 55 percent of Prop 30 opponents; 14 percent of voters opposed to the initiative say its outcome is either of little or no importance.
The real X factor could be voter turnout. Presidential elections typically attract a lot more voters, and early anecdotes suggest a lot of folks closely watching politics, and a large number of new voters registering for the first time online.
While California is still Barack Obama country, PPIC found more enthusiasm among Mitt Romney supporters (70 percent, versus 60 percent of Obama backers saying they're enthusiastic). And lest you think that's not a factor in the Prop 30 campaign, the poll found 74 percent of Romney voters oppose the initiative... while 72 percent of Obama backers support it.
Turnout could be a big deal, given the old adage that the old adage that the only poll that counts is the one taken on Election Day.