Back in September, the odds were looking good for Initiative 522. Seattle pollster Stuart Elway put support for the measure, which would require labeling of foods made with genetically modified ingredients, at an impressive 66 percent. A poll in June had showed similar results.
But now, in the latest poll released today, that lead has fallen to 46 percent. With 42 percent saying no, the difference is within the margin of error of 5 percentage points.
The game-changer? Campaign advertising.
The No on 522 campaign, funded by big agribusiness companies and food manufacturers, has been outspending proponents, and it shows.
The poll also asked whether voters had seen campaign ads, and people who saw ads for only one side were far more likely to be leaning that direction. (About half the people surveyed had seen ads for both sides, and were about evenly split on how they would vote.)
And specific campaign talking points are clearly getting through. When supporters were asked an open-ended question about their main reason for voting for the iniative, almost 70 percent gave a variation on the “right to know” what they are eating. Those against the measure most frequently said it was not needed, poorly written or that food costs would rise.
Does this all sound familiar? Almost the exact same scenario played out in California last year, when the almost identical Prop. 37 ultimately failed after months of leading in the polls. In our cover story last month on the GMO debate, Stacy Malkan, the former media director for the defeated Yes on Prop. 37, was clear about what made the difference:
“Forty-five million dollars of deceptive and misleading information raining on the heads of California voters almost every minute of the day at some point,” she told the Inlander.
Boosted by millions of dollars from Monsanto and big business, labeling opponents in California raised more than $45 million — five times as much as the supporters.
Compared to California, the pro-labeling camp in Washington is not as dramatically outmatched — the Yes on 522 campaign has raised more than $6 million, and other pro-labeling groups have raised an additional $1.2 million. But the No on 522 campaign has raised more than $17 million and — perhaps more critically — has more cash on hand going into the final weeks of campaigning.