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.
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.
There is no limit on how much any person or organization can give for or against ballot questions.
|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|
|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|
Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau