Press Release: 2012 Post-Election Survey

 For the research firm's report on the below survey, click here.

Why California Voters Passed Proposition 36 – and What Criminal Justice Changes They Want Next

Significant Majorities of Voters Support Public Safety Realignment, Further Changes to Prison Systems and Spending

OAKLAND — November 14,2012 — Californians for Safety and Justice ( today released results of a post-election survey of voters about public safety and criminal justice issues. The poll (conducted November 7-12 by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates) asked 1,301 Californians who cast ballots last week how they voted for Proposition 36 (changing the state’s Three Strikes law), why, what they think about Public Safety Realignment, and other criminal justice opinions and priorities.

Prop 36 easily passed with 68.7 percent of the vote, thereby changing the 1994 Three Strikes law to issue a third strike (which can result in a sentence of 25 years to life in prison) only if the offense is serious or violent in nature.

“The passage of Prop 36 by a two-to-one margin is not just a major statement from voters about longstanding sentencing practices but a reminder that the public is increasingly – consistently – interested in changing our justice system so that it costs less and improves public safety,” said Lenore Anderson, Director of Californians for Safety and Justice. “From the law enforcement leaders who supported changing Three Strikes to the voters who did so, it’s clear that this is not the end of an election story but the beginning of a conversation about new, smarter justice priorities for California.”

Key findings from the survey include the following.

Who Voted for Prop 36

  • Across political lines: In addition to strong support from Democrats (81 percent) and independent voters (74 percent), a slight majority (51 percent) of Republicans also voted for Prop 36.
  • All races and ethnicities: Even more than the two-to-one support from whites, Prop 36 garnered high numbers of votes from Latinos (76 percent), African Americans (84 percent) and Asian/Pacific Islanders (89 percent).
  • Women: 74 percent of female voters (compared to 66 of males) voted for Prop 36.

Why Voters Changed Three Strikes

Of those who voted yes, major factors for doing so were because Prop 36 will:

  • 75 percent – Eliminate unnecessary and ineffective life sentences currently imposed for non-violent, non-serious crimes.
  • 70 percent – Save California millions of dollars every year by reducing the amount of prison resources devoted to warehousing non-violent offenders.
  • 52 percent – Reduces the negative impact of unnecessarily long sentences on people and their families.

Half (51 percent) of voters believe Prop 36 will have no impact on public safety, and 27 percent believe it will make California more safe. And 75 percent feel it is important to quickly implement the revised Three Strikes law to save money sooner.

Voters See Reform Opportunities Beyond Three Strikes

  • 74 percent agreed that “Prop 36 is a good start, but we still need more changes to make California’s prison and justice systems more fair, more effective and less costly.”
  • 81 percent believe it is important to eliminate mandatory sentencing requirements to ensure judges can determine the appropriate length for sentences.
  • 78 percent think it is important to shorten jail sentences or probation supervision periods for those who maintain good behavior and follow the rules of their sentence.

Voters Want Different Spending Priorities

  • Four in 10 voters (39 percent) mistakenly believe that spending on prisons in California has been cut at a similar rate as spending on education, health and social services. (In fact, California prison spending increased by 1500 percent between 1981 and 2011, compared to 4 percent for K-12 education and health services during that same period.)
  • 62 percent of voters believe too much state funding goes to California’s prison system (10.5 percent of the general fund in 2011, compared to 2.9 percent in 1981).
  • Six in 10 (62 percent) agree that the Governor and Legislature should cut prison spending to prevent additional cuts to education, health and social services.
  • 86 agree that more resources should be dedicated to preventing crime rather than funding prisons and jails.

Support for Realignment – and Alternatives to Jail

  • Nearly seven in 10 voters (69 percent) believe that Public Safety Realignment (which shifts responsibility of some low-risk people from state prison and parole to county jails and probation) has been a good idea, and that “we can more efficiently and cost-effectively rehabilitate offenders at the local level.”
  • 73 percent of respondents believe that counties should focus more on crime-prevention programs and alternatives to incarceration versus just 16 percent who believe counties should use new state funds to expand jail capacity.
  • 87 percent feel it is important to set aside some of the state Realignment funds for counties to prevention programs, including for mental health and substance abuse.

About the survey methodology

From November 7-12, 2012, FM3 completed 1,301 telephone interviews (in English and Spanish) with California voters who voted in the November 2012 election. In addition to 800 interviews conducted statewide, additional oversamples of 100 interviews each were conducted with Latinos, African Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders and voters in the City of Los Angeles and the counties of Riverside/San Bernardino. All data have been statistically weighted to reflect the true demographic and geographic profile of November voters. The margin of sampling error for the statewide results is +/- 3.5 percent and slightly higher for subgroups within the over-samples. Due to rounding, some percentages do not total 100.

About Californians for Safety and Justice

Californians for Safety and Justice, a project of the Tides Center, is a nonprofit bringing together crime victims, business and community leaders, policymakers, law enforcement, health professionals, educators and crime-prevention experts to replace prison and justice system waste with common sense solutions that create safe neighborhoods and save public dollars. Through collaborations, policy research and analysis, toolkits and trainings, and community engagement, we are working to build a justice system that improves public safety and health without draining resources from our schools, hospitals and other community needs.



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