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Washington Voters Love Initiatives

AP photo.
A state worker counts initiative signatures in Olympia. A new poll for KPLU shows just how much state voters value the initiative process.

You've heard the complaints about ballot initiatives. Is it right that a corporation with a lot of money can get one on the ballot? And are we, the voters, really qualified to be deciding complicated things like tax policy? But, the KCTS 9 - KPLU - Washington Poll shows that voters in Washington are generally happy with the initiative process.

Here's the question that was put to voters: Overall, do you think that statewide initiative elections are a good thing for the state, a bad thing or don't make much difference? Nearly 70 percent of the voters polled said they think initiatives are a good thing, less than 10 percent think they are bad.

University of Washington pollster and political science professor Matt Barreto has a theory about why we seem to like initiatives so much.

He says voters like making decisions for themselves and they don't trust lawmakers.

"If you look at the favorability ratings of the state legislature, it's never been lower," Barreto said.

According to the KCTS 9 - KPLU - Washington Poll, only 4 percent of voters have a very favorable view of the state legislature in Olympia. That contrasts with 21 percent who have a very favorable view of Governor Christine Gregoire and 33 percent who have a very favorable view of President Barack Obama.

Barreto says state lawmakers know they aren't well liked and tend to punt on a lot of issues, sending them back to the voters as referendums.

"The down side of that is that when we ask voters if they feel informed or how closely they are following some of the initiatives, you get nowhere near the majority saying they feel comfortable making those decisions," Barreto said.

So, the bottom line seems to be that we like having the power of the initiative even if we don't necessarily know what we're voting on.

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.
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