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Faced with more tuition hikes, students rallied, turned tide on tax initiative

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown secured a convincing win for his tax initiative on last week's ballot, thanks partly to voters who might not seem like a natural constituency for the 74-year-old, lifelong politician -- young voters.

Those under 30 helped Brown win relatively easy passage for his Proposition 30, which will raise the statewide sales tax for four years and income taxes on high earners for seven years.

College students and the parents of school-age children had the most at stake with the initiative. If it failed, Brown and state lawmakers were poised to cut $6 billion from K-12 schools and higher education.

Faced with the prospect of more tuition hikes, students rallied for Proposition 30 on social networking sites and breathed new life into the Democratic governor's plan to stabilize state finances.

Exit polls conducted for the Associated Press and a consortium of TV networks showed 28 percent of those who cast ballots on Proposition 30 were between the ages of 18 and 29, a demographic that supported Brown's initiative by an overwhelming two-thirds. It also was a higher percentage of young voters than the pre-election polls used to show the measure faltering among likely voters.

"Every poll was assuming that young voters were going to be less engaged than they were going to be in each of the last four presidential elections," said Scott Lay, president and chief executive of the Community College League of California, who also runs a data-driven political blog.

Lay, who supported Proposition 30, said he was still surprised that the initiative fared so well, winning with 54 percent of the vote. Brown had faced criticism from fellow Democrats and the media for failing to launch an aggressive campaign sooner and concentrating so much of his effort on college campuses.

Yet students apparently got the message.

"He really connected to them, and they do feel a great deal of economic angst. Certainly they voted for Barack Obama, but that probably wasn't the leading reason they went to the polls," Lay said. Obama "may have ridden the coattails of Prop. 30 in California."

Part of the credit also goes to the state's new online voter registration system, which drew more than 1 million users this fall and helped at least 380,000 voters sign up for the first time, a demographic that skewed younger and more Democratic than the average California voter.


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