Major progressive referenda faced defeat Tuesday evening, with a series of rebuttals at the polls capping a night of uncertainty and disappointment for Democrats across the country.
California voters, while decisively handing their national endorsement to Democrats, beat back ballot initiatives to abolish cash bail and end the state's ban on affirmative action in higher education admissions. In bright-blue Illinois, meanwhile, voters defeated a plan, spearheaded by the state's Democratic governor, to implement a progressive income tax.
Although faring poorly in general, progressive-backed ballot initiatives did well in some jurisdictions, particularly as voters embraced expanded drug decriminalization and legalization.
Nonetheless, major defeats for left-leaning proposals add, alongside polling misses and still-razor-thin races for the presidency and Senate, to the overall sense of surprising failure for Democrats on Tuesday evening. Far from the blue wave many predicted, voters' responses to liberal politicians and policies indicate the narrow measure of approval with which any eventually ensconced Democratic coalition might govern.
California, which has one of the most expansive systems of ballot initiatives and referenda in the nation, played home to several major progressive defeats. Leading the pack was Proposition 16, which asked Californians to repeal the state's constitutional ban on the use of affirmative action in government, including in public college admissions, and which earned the endorsement of national Democrats, including vice presidential hopeful Kamala Harris. But California voters Wednesday conclusively defeated the measure, with 56 percent opposed.
Californians similarly signaled their opposition to further criminal justice "reform," with a majority as of Wednesday having rejected a proposal that previously passed the state legislature and would eliminate cash bail in the state and replace it with judges' assessments of risk, including a standard release for those convicted of misdemeanor offenses. And voters also backed Proposition 22, which would permit rideshare drivers to be treated as independent contractors—a blow to the state's restrictive regime for gig workers.
Beyond the Golden State, Illinois voters trounced a proposed "fair tax," a major blow to billionaire governor J.B. Pritzker, who spent $60 million campaigning to overturn the provision in Illinois's constitution that prohibits a graduated income tax. Voters in Massachusetts, meanwhile, rejected a proposal to transition to a "ranked-choice voting" system of the sort favored by progressives, while Floridians approved a $15 minimum wage but rejected a top-two runoff system.
Tuesday also gave voters in two states a chance to sound off on abortion, an increasingly important issue as a conservative majority on the Supreme Court raises the possibility of the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Voters in Colorado rejected a ban on abortions after 22 weeks, but Louisianans approved a proposal that adds language to the state constitution explicitly stating that there is no legal right to an abortion.
Progressive priorities did enjoy one major victory on Tuesday evening, as advocates of drug decriminalization and legalization scored decisive wins across the country. Oregon became the first state in the union to explicitly decriminalize small possession of all hard drugs, including methamphetamine and heroin, while the District of Columbia decriminalized certain psychedelic plants.
Voters in Arizona, Montana, South Dakota, and New Jersey legalized recreational marijuana, while voters in Mississippi assented to marijuana for medical uses. Those results bring total legal states up to 15—a dramatic increase from the first recreational legalization in 2012.