An initiative that would require producers to label foods with genetically engineered ingredients starts out with a large lead in the polls, gets massively outspent and then loses in a close race.
The story of Initiative 522 in Washington? Why, yes it is. But I was talking about last year's Proposition 37 in California.
Everett Herald columnist Jerry Cornfield asks a compelling question in a piece that ran on Thursday, Nov. 14: Now that we know I-522 suffered the identical fate as Prop 37, a similar GMO-labeling initiative in California, why didn't the Yes on 522 folks learn a lesson from the California defeat?
Cornfield argues the pro I-522 campaign fell into the same trap as the backers of the California initiative. It wasn't that it was outspent, $22 million to $8 million, it was that they had a poor strategy. It didn't do enough to woo rural voters.
For those disinclined to click on the Cornfield column, here's where he hits the crux of his argument:
Their plan called for winning at least 60 percent of the votes in King County, to pick up Snohomish County and to do respectably in the rural areas.
They are almost there in the state's largest county. They barely got there in Snohomish County -- 51.4 percent. But they are getting wiped out in the smaller counties of Eastern Washington.
Dan Flynn, a Denver-based writer with Food Safety News, believes rural voters are the reason I-522 went down.
"Indeed, the rural counties of Washington voted just like the rural counties of California did a year ago when they proved key to toppling Proposition 37," Flynn wrote Sunday online. "When the medicine show behind the Prop. 37 campaign announced it was moving on to Washington state, I remember thinking, "Gee, a state with a larger rural vote than California."
Another highlight of the column:
The ballot measure, which 66 percent of potential voters endorsed in a September Elway Poll, is on track to finish with only 49 percent voting for it.
It is a startling but not shocking collapse of support, said political consultants, pollsters -- and a noted chronicler of food labeling battles watching from the sidelines.
"Initiative campaigns are successful when they offer a solution to something the public perceives as a significant problem," said consultant Sandeep Kaushik, who had a busy fall helping state Sen. Ed Murray's campaign for Seattle mayor. "I'm not sure this initiative passed that test."
Like Frankstein's monster, the GMO-labeling movement is not going to die anytime soon. It's being tried in Oregon. Supporters are aiming for the 2014 ballot but are facing a challenge to the initiative language before the petition signatures are even in.
This state's effort will be revived in 2016, Yes on 522 announced Thursday, Nov. 14, in a press release. The campaign's own analysis of the election was that it suffered due to off-year low voter turnout. It expects to win in the next presidential election:
Yes on 522 Projects Winning 49% Support Despite All-Time Low Turnout
Eyes 2016 for Next Washington State Ballot Measure to Label GMO
National Movement Marches On: Americans Will Know if Foods Are GMO Just Like 64 Other Countries
SEATTLE – Spending more money than ever before spent in a Washington state ballot measure contest, out-of-state pesticide and junk and junk food industries funded a campaign of lies that deceived Washington voters in this election, leaving consumers in the dark about what is in the groceries they are buying and eating.
2013 general election turnout is the lowest ever recorded, skewing older and more conservative, and away from younger, more progressive voters driving the GE labeling movement. These "off-year" election results depict how viable a Washington state GMO labeling ballot measure would be in a presidential election cycle with a much higher, younger, and more progressive voter turnout. While it is unfortunate I-522 did not pass, it has set the stage for victory in 2016.
"Thank you to everyone who voted, volunteered, donated and supported this effort," said Trudy Bialic, co-chair for Yes on 522. "There was lower than expected voter turnout this year. Despite being outspent 3 to 1, we are projecting winning 49% of the vote. We are disappointed with the results, but the polling is clear that Washingtonians support labeling and believe they have a right to know. This fight isn't over. We will be back in 2016 to challenge and defeat the out-of-state corporations standing in the way of our right to know."