That is the question many in the food and agricultural community have been asking. Because of a recent survey that Brandon McFadden and I just conducted, we now have a much more definitive answer.
Here is the executive summary from our report, which we just released today. I will have more to say about the findings in future posts.
A new poll was conducted during September 20-27, 2012 among 1,003 Californians, 822 of whom were considered likely voters in the November 2012 election. Respondents were asked about their knowledge, likely vote, and reasons for voting on Proposition 37 related to mandatory labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods. We also studied how respondents reacted to either a “vote YES” or “vote NO” commercial on Prop 37.
A large majority of likely voters, 76.8%, indicated an intention to vote yes on Proposition 37.
Among those indicating an intention to vote yes, 71% said the primary reason was because “people have the right to know what is in their food,” followed by 16% who said it was to “make the food supply safer.” Among those indicating an intention to vote no, 35% said the primary reason was “to avoid higher food costs,” followed by 22% who said it was “because it will impose unneeded costs on farmers” and 17% who said it was “because genetically modified foods are not harmful.”
Despite the large majority of voters planning to vote in favor of Prop 37, several results suggest the potential for erosion of support in the coming month.
A follow-up question asked respondents with an intention to vote yes: “Would you still vote "YES" on Proposition 37 if you knew it would increase food prices by X%,” where the value X was randomly varied from 5% to 25% across respondents. Upon the prospect of a price increase, 46% of respondents who previously said yes switched their intended vote to no. Our statistically analysis reveals that Prop 37 will garner majority support at a food price increase lower than 11.9%, but for any price increase greater than 11.9%, more than 50% of likely voters will vote against the proposition.
Half the sample was randomly assigned to a group shown a “YES Prop 37” commercial and the other half was shown a “NO Prop 37” commercial. After watching the “YES Prop 37” commercial, the percentage of voters indicating an intention to vote yes was 77%, almost identical to the vote indicated prior to watching the commercial. However, after watching the “NO Prop 37” commercial, only 59% indicated an intention to vote yes on Prop 37. Thus, at least among the two commercials we considered, the “NO Prop 37” video was much more effective.
Overall, California voters were highly uninformed about the use of genetic engineering in general and about Prop 37 in particular. Only 43% could correctly identify the topic of Prop 37 out of six topics presented. When asked what percentage of corn, soybean, and wheat acres were planted with GE varieties in the U.S., respondents indicated, on average, 48%, 47%, and 45% respectively (the reality is 88%, 93%, and 0%). On average, voters thought 47% of products on grocery store shelves had GE ingredients. When asked if any products sold by Coke/Pespi, Frito Lay, Kashi, and Kellogg contained GE ingredients, only 31%, 45%, 21%, and 41% answered in the affirmative.