Do certain categories of initiatives in California receive greater overall media attention?

by Lindsay Jeanine Tracy

Institution: California State University – Sacramento
Year: 2016
Keywords: Politics; Fourth branch of government; Ballot measures; Initiative system; Mass media – Political aspects
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2068750
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10211.3/171303


California has utilized the initiative system since 1911. During this time, the initiative system in California has evolved into the ???fourth??? branch of government. Initiatives play an important role in government by providing the voting public with a means of bypassing the legislature to enact policy or change. Yet unlike candidate races, there are fewer signals available for voters to use in determining how to vote on initiatives. For this reason the role of the media is especially important. In this thesis I examine whether certain categories of initiatives in California between 2000-2014 received greater media attention than others. To conduct this thesis, I collected data from the National Conference of State Legislatures and the California Secretary of State to obtain citizen initiatives that were placed on the ballot from 2000-2014. I then performed a search on the Lexis-Nexis database for newspaper articles about the 67 initiatives in the data set. I collected information from Lexis-Nexis on how many articles, words, and paragraphs each individual measure received between January and the date of the election for their respective years. This information was then used to sort each individual measure into one of the nine categories for analysis. The results of this study indicate that the nine categories of initiatives received roughly the same amount of media attention. While minor differences were observed, a simple t-test showed that the differences between the categories were not statistically significant. However, a few controversial social measures earned a widely disproportionate share of media attention. I also found some evidence that media attention did not influence initiative passage rate. Additionally I found signs that initiatives can receive little media attention before passage but subsequently prompt much controversy. My thesis indicates that we need to give more attention to the role of the media in the initiative process. Initiatives remain a central feature of California government, and California voters continue to rely on the same main sources of information to inform them about measures on upcoming elections. If as this study suggests there is not enough information provided about important initiatives by traditional news outlets, where and how can we expect voters to obtain all of the information necessary to vote? Advisors/Committee Members: Lascher, Edward L..