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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

October 21, 2013 at 11:57 AM

Elway Poll: Support for GMO-labeling I-522 clings to lead, but momentum has shifted

Initiative 522 – the statewide ballot measure to require labeling of genetically engineered foods –  is clinging to a slight lead heading into the final two weeks before Election Day.

But momentum has clearly shifted against the measure, thanks to a barrage of opposition advertisements over the last month.

Or so says Seattle pollster Stuart Elway, whose latest poll on the Washington initiative has I-522 winning 46 to 42 percent, with still 12 percent of voters undecided.

“If you were calling it today, you’d say it’s still going to pass,” Elway said Monday. “But the momentum shift — how’s that going to play out?  And, it’s still within the margin of error.”

I-522’s four-point advantage falls within the poll’s margin of error of 5 percent, meaning the race is too close to call.

Campaign officials on either side of the measure touted Elway’s latest polling.

“It’s obvious that the more people know about 522 the less they like it,” No campaign spokeswoman Dana Bieber said in an email. “Voters are seeing through the proponent’s misleading initiative and misleading campaign.”

“Despite being outspent for weeks by five huge corporations, we’re still winning,” said Yes campaign spokeswoman Elizabeth Larter. “Clearly, Washingtonians are embracing the right to know what’s in their groceries.”

Based on interviews conducted from Oct. 15 to 17 of 413 registered Washington voters, The Elway Poll found a 41-point swing favoring I-522 opponents from its last survey in September.

In the previous poll, taken largely before advertisements began airing, Elway found Washington voters were easily approving the measure, 66 percent to 21 percent.

But that support has rapidly dwindled since an opponents’ TV ad blitz, which contends I-522 would be a misleading and inconsistent measure that would raise grocery costs.

The Yes campaign has been heavily advertising, as well — but its ads contending consumers should have the right to know what’s in their groceries have aired far less frequently than the anti-labeling spots.

Elway’s latest poll shows I-522’s support has dropped 20 points since September, while opposition has climbed by 21 points. That includes an increase from 11 percent to 33 percent of voters who said they would definitely vote against the measure.

“It appears that the opponents’ messaging is getting through,” Elway said.

The shift in momentum mirrors what happened last year with Proposition 37 – a nearly identical proposal put to voters in California. Support for that ballot initiative held a big advantage early, but faded following a barrage of anti-labeling ads.  The measure ultimately failed, 49 to 51 percent.

As they did in California, a group of large biotechnology and food industry corporations have bankrolled a massive campaign account to fund the steady drumbeat of advertising against the initiative.

As of Monday, the No campaign had raised $17.2 million in contributions – a state record for an opposition campaign to an initiative. The Yes campaign had raised about $6.1 million, including a mix of donations from organic-friendly companies and stores, and thousands of individuals.

Despite the big momentum swing against the measure, historical polling trends favor I-522, Elway said.  Since 1992, 17 of 22 initiatives polling with more than 60 percent support in Elway’s September polls ended up winning, he said.

Comments | More in 2014 elections | Topics: Initiative 522, The Elway Poll

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