Prop 34 has been defeated by slightly more than 6%. That margin is three or four times the national popular vote margin by which President Obama won re-election. Those claiming a mandate for him will have to, if they are consistent, be at least three times as emphatic in noting that California voters have issued a mandate to keep the death penalty.
There are several things that make this victory even more noteworthy than it seems on the surface. First, it shows that when the DP is put directly to the people, they want it. Recent repealers -- for example, in New Jersey, Illinois and New Mexico -- never went to the people directly, and were engineered by temporary anti-DP majorities in the legislature.
Second, retentionists prevailed while being outspent by probably a thousand to one. The retentionist forces had virtually no budget. The abolitionist forces were, by contrast, amply bankrolled by, as President Obama is wont to say, millionaires and billionaires.
Third, the people rejected elite and establishment opinion and -- guess what -- thought for themselves. The LA Times endorsed Prop 34, and did most or perhaps all of the big papers in the state (Kent will know the rundown on endorsements better than I). Academia played its usual totally one-sided (and, fortunately, almost totally ignored) role. In the end, the unwashed masses, sometimes known as the citizens and taxpayers, had their say notwithstanding the usual lectures from on high.
Fourth, this result came about in an overwhelmingly liberal and Democratic state in a good year for liberals and Democrats. If abolitionists can't win in this environment, they can't win anywhere. I strongly suspect they know this, although getting them to admit it will be a different matter.
Fifth, retentionists won despite the deceitful campaign for abolition and the deceptive wording of the initiative. The idea that there would be any new requirement for inmate-killers to work, or that their doing so would result in any even marginally significant restitution for victim families, was a fraud.
Perhaps the most satisfying lesson to be drawn from Prop 34's not-so-close defeat is that, while people can have their heads momentarily turned by promises of big taxpayer savings, their hearts are still turned by justice.
A big thank you and well done to California voters.