Voters in California are said to be 'evenly divided' over a bill that would provide the state with $3 billion of funding for human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research. Known as Proposition 71, or the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, the bill will be part of the 2 November ballot. If passed, it would provide $295 million per year for 10 years to Californian universities, research institutes and companies involved in research into ES cells taken from human embryos that are less than two weeks old.
The bill would also allow funding to be allocated for cloning projects to create ES cells for regenerative therapies, but specifies that cloning for reproductive purposes is not to be allowed. The group behind the bill, Californians for Stem Cell Research and Cures (CSCRC), also proposed that a 29-member panel be set up, appointed by state governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, chancellors of the University of California and other officials, to distribute the funds in the form of grants.
The proposal qualified for the ballot in June. In order to do so, CSCRC had to obtain the signatures of 600,000 Californians by 16 April, but the petition far exceeded this number: over one million voters had signed by that date. Supporters of the proposal then submitted the petition to Kevin Shelley, the Californian Secretary of State, who authorised it for ballot. If the proposal succeeds, California would be the first state in the US to publicly fund ES cell research.
A new Field Poll survey, taken between 30 July and 8 August this year, shows that 45 per cent of voters support the proposition, while 42 per cent are opposed to it. Thirteen per cent of the 534 voters surveyed said they were 'undecided' on the matter. Support was found to be roughly equal along age, gender and educational lines, although it was found that voters below the age of 40, women and graduates were slightly more likely to be supportive than older people, men and non-graduates. The strongest opposition was found on religious grounds, with the greatest opposition coming from those who identified themselves as 'born-again' Christians or Catholic. Support was highest among those who identified themselves as non-Christian or not religious.
The proposition 71 debate has 'become a microcosm - California size - of the equally polarised national presidential race', said Keay Davidson in the San Francisco Chronicle, where the survey results are printed in full. The survey also found that 57 per cent of people intending to vote for Democrat John Kerry also intend to vote in favour of Proposition 71, while 59 per cent of those who plan to vote for President Bush intend to vote against it. Mark DiCamillo, director of Field Poll, commented that 'preference on the issue of stem cells has a direct correlation to the vote choice in the presidential election'.