With reproductive freedom, gambling, dialysis and greenhouse gasses among the seven propositions on California’s Nov. 8 midterm ballot, Claremont McKenna College’s Rose Institute of State and Local Government released a “Video Voter Guide” last month to help Californians understand what their vote means.
This year, student researchers at the Rose Institute — which studies demographics, economics and politics in California — began working on the guide over the summer. First, they wrote background papers about each proposition analyzing its language, purpose, supporters, opponents and arguments for and against the measure.
“Generally, the best arguments we found were not from the Republican or Democratic parties,” Marshall Bessey CM ’23, the project manager of the Video Voter Guide, told TSL. “They were from local California editorial boards, which were a great source of nuanced arguments for both sides.”
After writing the papers, students condensed their research into two-minute video scripts with a non-partisan overview of each proposition. When they returned to campus this fall, they recorded the videos and worked with CMC alumni to edit the clips.
Voters who show up to the polls next Tuesday will also decide who will fill seats at a variety of levels — from the position of governor, which Gavin Newsom currently holds, to the highly anticipated Los Angeles mayoral race between Rep. Karen Bass and real estate developer Rick Caruso.
The Video Voter Guide project began a decade ago in 2012, when student researchers wanted to help voters understand California’s often confusing ballot propositions.
“The Video Voter Guide fits squarely within the Rose Institute’s mission, which is to educate students, conduct high-quality research and contribute to public understanding of state and local politics and policy, especially in California,” Kenneth Miller, a professor of government at CMC and the director of the Rose Institute, said.
Each student working on the project chose a ballot measure to research. Katherine Jackson CM ’25 spent her summer researching Proposition 1, which would “Amend the Constitution to Provide an Express Right to Reproductive Freedom” in California if passed.
Jackson selected this proposition to learn more about the history of abortion access in California and how it has led to this ballot measure.
“I hope that voters take away what a ‘yes’ means and what a ‘no’ means from my video, because sometimes that’s really confusing,” Jackson said.
The guides made by her fellow research assistants also helped her fill out her own ballot.
“I was confused about some of the propositions, so it was great to have a non-partisan explanation of the proposition to inform my voting,” she said.
Miller said researching a single ballot issue is an important exercise for student researchers.
“By mastering a single ballot measure, students learn a great deal about a public policy issue as well as California’s ballot measure system, and also learn how to communicate a complex issue in an evenhanded, accessible way,” Miller said.
At the same time, the videos contribute to public understanding of politics in California and are targeted at every voter in the state. Students working on the project decided this year to particularly target younger voters through their video format and social media strategy.
“It’s nice, as a young person, to see another young person explaining what you’re going to be voting on,” Bessey said.
To appeal to younger voters, the Institute changed the video format this year to be shorter, with TikTok-style videos full of effects and graphics, according to Bessey.
Students at the Rose Institute say that conveying factual information to voters is ever more important in an environment of persistent campaigning and advertisements for and against the ballot measures. As of this August, spending on Propositions 26 and 27 — both about sports gambling — surpassed $357 million, making it the most expensive campaign in California history.
Proposition 26 would allow in-person sports gambling at casinos on Native American reservations and horse racetracks, as well as additional gambling games such as craps and roulette at tribal casinos, while Proposition 27 would legalize and tax online sports gambling in California.
Several Native American tribes are backing Proposition 26, while large online gambling companies support Proposition 27. A majority of the money poured into campaigns for and against the two propositions has been spent on television advertising.
“It’s become an absolute war between the supporters of the initiatives,” Bessey said. “Whenever I’m watching a live sports game, every other commercial is some sort of ad in favor or against a ballot initiative, so it’s nice for voters to have a resource that is giving them the facts.”