“Everyone in California wanted rent control, it seemed.
The conventional wisdom was that the housing crisis in California had walloped the voters enough that the concept of returning some form of rent regulation was finally pliable. Prop 10, which would have opened the door for that to happen, should have easily won a majority of “Yes” votes.
As late of September of this year, less than two months before Election Day, a USC Dornsife and L.A. Times poll found that 52 percent of Californians, and 67 percent of polled renters, supported the idea of rent control. But — only 36 percent of those same people planned on voting in favor of Prop 10.
The proposition would have given cities and municipalities a green-light to pursue rent control policies by repealing a state law called Costa-Hawkins, which prevents cities from passing new rent control policies.
Last week, when votes on Election Day were counted, 2.6 million Californians voted in support of Prop 10, while 4.3 million Californians voted against it, the biggest margin of defeat in the proposition races this year. Only the county of San Francisco voted in favor of it — the entire state rejected the thing.
So what happened?
“We were tremendously outspent,” Ged Kenslea told L.A. Taco. Kenslea is head of communications for the AIDs Healthcare Foundation, the L.A. based, nonprofit that was the main financial backers of the “Yes on Prop 10 campaign.
The AHF kicked in a little more than $23 million of the total $25.6 million raised by the Yes on 10 campaign. The No on 10 campaign, financed by a wide array of real estate interests from inside and outside of the state, raised a remarkable $74.8 million, an almost 3 to 1 spending disparity.
But that doesn’t explain it all. It turns out, both campaigns spent about the same on conventional TV and radio advertising.
Using campaign finance information available on Cal-Access, the Yes on 10 campaign spent at least $15.4 million on both TV and online advertising, while the No on 10 campaign spent slightly less, $15.1 million on TV, radio, and online.
Lynn Vavreck, a professor of political science at UCLA, told L.A. Taco that conventional television ads aren’t as effective as you might expect. “Generally the effects of ads are small and go away quite quickly – within a few days,” she explained. “So it is likely that in these cases, the ads canceled each other out as there was a lot of advertising on both sides.”
That dollar-spent figure doesn’t take into account money spent on guerrilla marketing services like paid social media content, comments, likes and shares. This also includes paying social media celebrities or so called influencers to sway the electorate.
“I think it was really the power of the dollar beyond the TV ads,” Kensla explained. “We were bombarded by terrestrial radio ads too, but I think it was less our messaging than the deep pocketed opposition who were able to sow doubt and confusion.”
If you were anywhere near a room with a TV on in the months leading up to the election you probably saw the No on 10 ads repeated constantly. Usually featuring an older person, or a middle aged veteran looking straight into the camera and saying “Prop 10 has no protections for renters, seniors, or veterans,” the ads warned that the passage of Prop 10 would “drive up rents and make housing less affordable.”
Another ad featured someone identified as a “California renter and mom” saying that “Prop 10 has no protections for renters.” Prop 10 only promised to repeal Costa-Hawkins, allowing municipalities to devise their own rent control policies, or not.
The advertising was threatening the very problem the proposition was trying to resolve.
“Their main tactic was to confuse voters,” Arielle Sallai told L.A. Taco. Sallai is the communications director for the L.A. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, one of the constituents in the Yes on 10 coalition.
“People were confused about what Prop 10 was and what it would do,” Sallai said. “I met people days before the election who said they were voting no on 10 because they thought a no vote was for rent control.”