On November 3, Californian voters will cast their ballot on several propositions. Among them is Proposition 22, which would exempt app-based employees from being classified as traditional full-time employees, thus allowing them to retain an independent contractor status with the flexibility that this status entails. This election is of particular salience to the future of the gig economy and of existential importance to ride-sharing companies.

Those who support the proposition—including Uber, Lyft, and other drive-based app platforms argue that this exemption is vital for maintaining the level of flexibility that they and their drivers desire (as well as lower prices for consumers). On the other hand, opponents of the proposition, including the labor unions, argue that the proposition would prevent these drivers from receiving the wages and benefits they deserve and would be entitled to receive if they were classified as full employees.

A recent poll of California voters conducted on August 9th by Redfield & Wilton Strategies found that the proportion who say they will certainly vote for the various ballot propositions (including Proposition 22) is ten points lower than the proportion that say they will certainly vote in the Presidential Election. Nevertheless, a clear majority (60%) believe they are certain to vote on the ballot propositions, a majority of whom will be voting by mail.

We found that those aged 65 and older were the most likely to say they will be casting a vote on the various ballot propositions (80% say they certainly will), whereas those aged 18-24 were the least likely (only 33% said they would certainly vote on the propositions). This difference in stated likelihood to vote is despite the fact that ballot propositions appear on the same ballot as the votes for the Presidency and other elected offices.

The significantly lower proportion of younger voters who say they are certain to vote on these propositions may indicate their lack of familiarity with the ballot proposition process in California. In California, ballot propositions are essentially direct referendums on specific issues, and their outcome can alter the Constitution of California or any law on the California Codes or Statutes. Ballot propositions can be introduced by either the California State Legislature, or via a petition that is signed by a number of voters (the latter was the case for Proposition 22).

For those invested in any of these propositions, the lack of familiarity that voters appear to have with the process (or with the existence of propositions in the first place) represents a significant risk, as many younger voters might be ill-informed about the details of the propositions and therefore may vote without having a detailed understanding of the potential implications. Because of this risk, the exact wording of each proposition is of vital importance, as it might be the only information considered by many voters.

Therefore, our poll prompted the full wording of Proposition 22 to respondents as one of our first questions, without any prior context given, and found that 41% say they will vote YES for Proposition 22, and 26% say they will vote NO. In addition, a significant 34% say they still do not know how they will vote.

Voting YES for the proposition would result in app-based drivers retaining their independent contractor status and not being classified as employees, whereas voting NO would result in them being classified as employees.

Voters between the ages of 25 and 34 were the most likely to say they will vote YES on Proposition 22 (49%), whereas those aged 55-64 were the least likely to vote YES (35%). Greater support among younger voters for the proposal may due to their reliance on technology based private vehicles, or the increased likelihood that they work for an app-based company on an independent basis. On the other hand, older respondents might be supportive of traditional patterns of employment, and therefore be more skeptical of contractor-type employment.

Likewise, men were more likely (46%) than women (36%) to say they plan to vote YES. However, women were more likely to be undecided (39%) than men (28%). Similar proportions of men and women say they will vote NO (26% and 25% respectively). Although our poll targeted a cross-section of all California voters and not exclusively app-based drivers, the higher rates of support for Proposition 22 among male respondents mirrors how an estimated 80% of drivers in the rideshare industry are men.

Our poll also found that likely Trump voters are significantly more likely to say they will vote YES (52%) than likely Biden voters (38%). However, 38% still represents the plurality of likely Biden voters. Indeed, only 28% of likely Biden voters in California said they plan to vote NO on Proposition 22. Over a third (34%) of those who intend to vote for Biden in November remain undecided, while 29% of likely Trump voters have yet to decide on the Proposition.

Effect of Mail-In Voting

As part of our research, we also asked respondents in California how they plan to vote in November. The results indicate that California voters who plan to vote in-person on election day are far more likely to say YES to Proposition 22 (53%) than those who plan to vote by absentee ballot (38%). However, both groups are equally as likely to say they will vote NO (26% for both), and the difference lies in the fact that those who will vote by absentee ballot are far more likely to be undecided about Proposition 22 (36%) than those who will vote in person on election day (21%).

Therefore, the ongoing debate about whether the November 3 election should be held in-person or exclusively by absentee ballots is likely to impact the outcome of Proposition 22, and will therefore be subject of interest for those invested in either side of the proposition, especially as those voting by mail will have the freedom of time to research the ballot initiative as they complete their ballot at home, days and even weeks in advance of the election.

Awareness and Understanding of Proposition 22

It is important to note the significant number of respondents selecting ‘Don’t Know’ in response to our voting intention question. Only 34% of California respondents said they were aware of Proposition 22 prior to this poll, with the majority (66%) saying they were not aware of the proposition. Interestingly, a greater proportion of likely Trump voters (43%) were aware of it than likely Biden voters (33%). A high proportion of those who have driven for Uber or Lyft or another ride-sharing service are aware of the ballot measure.

Similarly, a strong majority of respondents are unaware of Assembly Bill 5, the legislation passed in December 2019 which Proposition 22 seeks to modify.

Notably, when Assembly Bill 5 is explained to respondents, a majority are supportive of it.

And, more importantly, they agreed that Uber and Lyft drivers should be classified as employees under the rules set by Assembly Bill 5.

Similarly, a plurality of respondents appeared supportive of Proposition 22, when it is explained to them its intended purpose and after having been given some context on Assembly Bill 5.

What Do the Voters Think?

At the outset, the relatively high rates of support for Proposition 22 among California voters mirrors their primarily favorable view of app-based companies. For example, our poll found that 40% of California voters say they have a favorable view of Uber, compared to 20% that have an unfavorable view. Likewise, 40% have a favorable view of Lyft, and 15% have an unfavorable view, and 44% have a favorable view of Doordash and 10% have an unfavorable view. Importantly, these three companies have each donated $30 million to support the passage of Proposition 22 in California.

Similar to the rates of support for Proposition 22, male respondents were more likely to have a favorable view of Uber (44%) than female respondents (35%). A similar pattern manifests itself with Lyft. In contrast, male and female respondents were similarly as likely to have a favorable view of Doordash.

Trump voters are particularly likely to have a favorable view of Uber (46%), yet a plurality (38%) of likely Biden supporters also hold a favorable view of Uber. On the other hand, likely Trump voters (41%) and likely Biden voters (43%) were almost equally as likely to have a favorable view of Lyft. Similarly, Doordash is viewed favorably by 48% of likely Trump voters and 46% of likely Biden voters.

As well as having a significant impact on consumers, the result of the vote on Proposition 22 will affect the significant proportion of the population who on occasion work as drivers for app-based companies. Indeed, our poll found that 15% of California voters have at some point been drivers for a ride-sharing app such as Uber or Lyft. Ultimately, Proposition 22 is highly relevant for many voters in California who will have personal experience driving through an app-based company. [1]

At the same time, about 40% to half of respondents to our poll have never user the services offered by Uber and Lyft. Older respondents, the group of respondents most likely to be certain to vote on the ballot initiatives, were especially unlikely to have used these services or to have been a driver.

Interestingly, despite the high rates of support for Proposition 22 (which would allow app-based drivers to remain classified as contractors rather than employees), a plurality (41%) of California respondents say it would be in the best interests of the drivers to be classified as employees. However, as many as 37% say it would be in their best interest to be classified as contractors, which represents only a four-point difference.

To dive deeper into these figures, we broke down the results based on whether respondents said they intend to vote YES or NO on Proposition 22. Surprisingly, we found 38% of those who will vote YES are doing so despite thinking that a YES win would be against the best interest of app-based drivers.

On the other hand, a majority (59%) of those who plan to vote NO on Proposition 22 think it would be in the best interest of app-based drivers to be classified as employees, a belief that is coherent with their voting intention. Nonetheless, a bit more than a quarter (29%) of those who plan to vote NO on the proposition think it would be better for app-based drivers to be classified as contractors, despite the fact that voting NO on the proposition would prevent them from being classified as such.

Again, such discrepancy could first and foremost be a result of the complex and sophisticated wording of the ballot proposition question combined with the initial unfamiliarity of respondents to Proposition 22 prior to taking our poll.

In California, it is the Attorney General who decides on the final wording of a proposition and how it will appear on the ballot. Recently, proponents of Proposition 22 filed a lawsuit against California’s Attorney General, claiming that his alleged bias against Uber and other ride-sharing companies led him to choose a wording for Proposition 22 that biases voters against the proposition. Whereas the initial wording of the proposition was that it “changes employment classification rules for app-based transportation and delivery drivers,” the Attorney General changed this wording to “exempts app-based transportation and delivery companies from providing employee benefits to certain drivers.”

When asked which of the two wordings is fairest, California respondents were almost evenly divided, with 27% saying the original wording is fairer, compared to 24% who think the Attorney General’s amended wording is fairer. A further 21% said both descriptions are fair, and 28% said they do not know.

However, it is also possible that voters will cast their Proposition 22 vote on the basis of what they perceive to be best for consumers and therefore themselves. For example, 38% say that services offered by Uber, Lyft, and others will be cheaper if drivers are classified as contractors, compared to just 23% who think the services would be cheaper if they are classified as employees.

Again, as many as 39% say they do not know which of the two classifications would lead to cheaper rides, highlighting the public’s unfamiliarity with the complexity of this issue. Another, though unlikelier, cause of this discrepancy may be respondents having concerns about the impact of competition from app-based drivers on taxi drivers which might be encouraging some Californians to vote against what they believe to be the best interests of app-based riders but in the better interest of taxi drivers.

When we broke down the results for the previous question on the basis of whether respondents intend to vote YES or NO on Proposition 22, we found that that supporters of both YES and NO have similar views on which employment classification would lead to cheaper rides for consumers: pluralities of those who plan to vote YES (44%) and NO (45%) think classifying drivers as contractors would lead to cheaper services on Uber, Lyft, and other similar providers.

Regardless of the relative consensus about which employment classification would lead to cheaper rides, respondents are very divided on whether they think classifying drivers as employees (i.e. Proposition 22 failing) would lead to companies such as Uber or Lyft going bankrupt: 26% of respondents think it would, and 31% think it would not. Meanwhile, 30% neither agree nor disagree that classifying drivers as employees would push these companies into bankruptcy, which is primarily suggestive of a lack of familiarity with the finances of these firms. According to the CEO of Uber, being forced to classify their drivers as employees could force the company into suspending their operations in California.

Despite the strong impact that the failure of Proposition 22 could have on the employment status and mobility options of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Californians, our research indicates that a significant proportion of the state’s electorate remains undecided about, and indeed unaware of, Proposition 22. Despite the healthy 15% lead that the YES side currently has over the NO side, with only a third of respondents saying they were aware of Proposition 22 prior to our poll, the our voting intention result can easily change with broader public awareness.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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[1] Altogether, 308 of the 2,000 respondents to our poll say they have been an Uber, Lyft or other ride-share app driver, of which 144 said they are still currently active as drivers. These cross-tabs are available in the charts presented, but we nevertheless urge caution on any conclusions drawn from these sub-samples given their significant smaller sample size.

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