How to Poll

California’s venerable Field Poll released the first in its final series of pre-election polls today, and in the process provided a wonderful example to all its fellow pollsters. At a moment when a number of polls have come under criticism for not employing interviewers who can speak Spanish, the Field Poll responded to California’s growing diversity by conducting its interviews in English and Spanish—and Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, and Vietnamese. The funding for these Asian-language interviews was provided by New American Media, which itself had received a grant for this project from the San Francisco Foundation.

The poll itself measured support for the two rival tax hike/school spending measures on the California ballot next week—Proposition 30, backed by Governor Jerry Brown and teachers unions, among others, which would raise income taxes on the wealthy and impose a quarter-cent sales tax hike to provide $6 billion yearly to the state’s K-12 schools and its public colleges and universities; and multi-millionaire Molly Munger’s Proposition 38, which would raise income taxes on all but the poorest Californians to provide $8 billion yearly to K-12 schools. Unlike Proposition 30, Munger’s measure, which, if passed, won’t take effect until the next school year, would do nothing to prevent the immediate $6 billion hit to the budgets of state schools and colleges should Brown’s measure fail—a hit that would cause most school districts to shorten this year’s school year by three weeks and force more tuition hikes at the University of California and other state colleges.

Munger’s proposal has never commanded majority support: An across-the-board tax hike in the state with the second-highest unemployment rate in the U.S. was always a non-starter, and Field shows it trailing by a 34-percent-to-49-percent margin. Proposition 30 has led in all the polls, though it has dropped beneath the 50 percent level, which usually signals trouble on election day. Field shows it leading by 48-percent-to-38-percent margin—a margin wide enough that it may just pass even though its support is beneath 50 percent.

Munger, a longtime liberal, and her brother Charles Jr., a longtime conservative, have both poured money into this year’s campaign (they are children of billionaire Charles Munger, a Pasadena attorney who has been Warren Buffett’s partner in Berkshire Hathaway for many decades). While Molly has refused to heed the cries of her fellow liberals to back Brown’s measure, she has at least pulled ads that criticized it. Her brother, however, is the leading individual donor to a campaign committee devoted both to defeating Proposition 30 and to promoting Proposition 32, an initiative designed to curtail unions’ ability to raise money for elections. Charles, a Stanford physicist, has given $36.5 million to back those causes. (The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission has gone to court to determine the identity of an anonymous donor of $11 million to that same committee, and last night won a ruling from the judge ordering that that donor’s identity be disclosed.)

Meanwhile, Field’s multi-lingual polling has now set the standard for America, the Increasingly Diverse.  Pollsters, take heed!

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