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With ballot questions, money matters

Boston 2024 Chairman John Fish is pushing for a statewide referendum on the Boston Olympics.
Boston 2024 Chairman John Fish is pushing for a statewide referendum on the Boston Olympics. Lane Turner / Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Statewide ballot questions, like the one being proposed on whether Boston should host the 2024 Olympics, have historically swung in favor of whichever answer — yes or no — had more money behind it.

However, outspending the opposition has not always meant victory.

Of the 31 statewide ballot measures since 1998, eight have resulted in wins for the side that spent less money, state campaign finance and election records show.

And even heavily outspending is no guarantee of success.

On two different ballot questions during the 2006 election, not a single penny was spent officially advocating for the side that a majority of voters ultimately chose, according to state records.

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Those questions, which both failed, were: Questions 2, which called for allowing candidates for public office to be nominated by multiple political parties and to have their names appear on the ballot once per nomination; and Question 3, which called for allowing providers of home-based child care providers who give state-subsidized care to unionize.

Just this past fall, voters favored “Yes” on Question 1, eliminating a requirement that the state gasoline tax be adjusted each year based on changes to the Consumer Price Index. That victory came even though records show that more than $2.7 million, or about 97.7 percent of all spending on Question 1, went toward opposing the measure.

Still, in most cases, voters have sided with the biggest spenders. Twenty of the 31 ballot questions since 1998 have resulted in victories for the choice with the greater financial backing, according to state records.

In some cases, substantial differences in spending have coincided with dramatic shifts in voter sentiment.

In 2012, Question 2, which would have let terminally ill people obtain a prescription drug to end their lives, fell short of passing by 2 points. But just a month earlier, polls suggested about two-thirds of voters supported the measure. Opponents of the question spent $5.6 million, while supporters spent $1.9 million, records show.

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There is no limit on how much any person or organization can give for or against ballot questions.

How spending compares with results on statewide ballot questions
On most questions put before Massachusetts voters since 1998, the side that spent the most has won
Year Ballot question Adopted Yes supporters spent No supporters spent Top spender won
2014 Eliminating gas tax indexing Y $69,696 $2,950,909 N
2014 Expanding the beverage container deposit law N $1,591,538 $9,536,205 Y
2014 Expanding prohibitions on gaming N $854,820 $15,087,434 Y
2014 Earned sick time for employees Y $2,002,402 $56,542 Y
2012 Availability of motor vehicle repair information Y $2,379,490 $442,450 Y
2012 Prescribing medication to end life N $1,909,423 $5,626,597 Y
2012 Medical use of marijuana Y $1,287,493 $41,353 Y
2010 Sales tax on alcoholic beverages Y $3,180,203 $253,600 Y
2010 Comprehensive permits for low- or moderate-income housing N $367,096 $1,254,713 Y
2010 Sales and use tax rates N $285,005 $4,888,894 Y
2008 Repeal state personal income tax N $572,465 $7,578,652 Y
2008 Make marijuana possession civil, not criminal, offense Y $1,576,836 $80,671 Y
2008 Ban dog racing Y $1,354,817 $679,582 Y
2006 Sale of wine by food stores N $7,856,065 $5,345,615 N
2006 Nomination of candidates for public office N $542,830 $0 N
2006 Family child care providers N $1,866,750 $0 N
2002 Eliminating state personal income tax N $535,507 $4,600 N
2002 English language education in public schools Y $446,566 $645,018 N
2002 Taxpayer funding for political campaigns N $103,059 $678,002 Y
2000 Earlier redistricting for state legislators and governor's councillors Y $0 $0 N/A
2000 Voting by incarcerated felons Y $0 $0 N/A
2000 Dog racing N $956,167 $2,026,874 Y
2000 Income tax rate reduction Y $1,381,065 $3,521,222 N
2000 Health insurance and health care N $469,057 $5,320,928 Y
2000 Tax credit for tolls and motor vehicle excise taxes N $288,228 $3,538,135 Y
2000 Tax deduction for charitable contributions Y $470,772 $0 Y
2000 Drug-dependency treatment and drug-crime fines and forfeitures N $1,685,866 $38,216 N
1998 Setting compensation of state legislators Y $0 $0 N/A
1998 Public campaign financing Y $1,325,542 $65,842 Y
1998 Tax rate on interest and dividend income Y $490,630 $0 Y
1998 Electric utility industry restructuring Y $8,741,652 $287,346 Y
DATA: Secretary of the Commonwealth, state Office of Campaign & Political Finance
Matt Rocheleau/Globe Staff
Money spent per vote on statewide ballot questions
A look at how ballot question support and opposition spending compared with actual votes
Year Ballot question Adopted Yes spending per vote No spending per vote
2014 Eliminating gas tax indexing Y $0.06 $3.04
2014 Expanding the beverage container deposit law N $2.82 $6.11
2014 Expanding prohibitions on gaming N $1.01 $11.87
2014 Earned sick time for employees Y $1.59 $0.07
2012 Availability of motor vehicle repair information Y $1.01 $1.13
2012 Prescribing medication to end life N $1.30 $3.67
2012 Medical use of marijuana Y $0.67 $0.04
2010 Sales tax on alcoholic beverages Y $2.77 $0.24
2010 Comprehensive permits for low- or moderate-income housing N $0.41 $1.00
2010 Sales and use tax rates N $0.29 $3.84
2008 Repeal state personal income tax N $0.63 $3.66
2008 Make marijuana possession civil, not criminal, offense Y $0.81 $0.08
2008 Ban dog racing Y $0.81 $0.52
2006 Sale of wine by food stores N $8.56 $4.51
2006 Nomination of candidates for public office N $0.79 $0.00
2006 Family child care providers N $1.96 $0.00
2002 Eliminating state personal income tax N $0.60 $0.00
2002 English language education in public schools Y $0.33 $1.01
2002 Taxpayer funding for political campaigns N $0.20 $0.46
2000 Earlier redistricting for state legislators and governor's councillors Y $0.00 $0.00
2000 Voting by incarcerated felons Y $0.00 $0.00
2000 Dog racing N $0.75 $1.53
2000 Income tax rate reduction Y $0.90 $3.34
2000 Health insurance and health care N $0.38 $4.01
2000 Tax credit for tolls and motor vehicle excise taxes N $0.26 $2.39
2000 Tax deduction for charitable contributions Y $0.26 $0.00
2000 Drug-dependency treatment and drug-crime fines and forfeitures N $1.39 $0.03
1998 Setting compensation of state legislators Y $0.00 $0.00
1998 Public campaign financing Y $1.17 $0.12
1998 Tax rate on interest and dividend income Y $0.35 $0.00
1998 Electric utility industry restructuring Y $6.98 $0.56
DATA: Secretary of the Commonwealth, state Office of Campaign & Political Finance
Matt Rocheleau/Globe Staff

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau
@globe.com
.