An opinion research and public-policy analysis firm, Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, and Associates, conducted four focus groups last February to gauge reaction to a California ballot initiative to provide funds for mental health care.
These are among the key points identified:
• Mental health care should be the central theme of the initiative. Compassion motivated most voters who expressed support for the proposed measure. “[The] severely mentally ill evoke the most sympathy and compassion from voters...Voters do not seem as interested in providing psychotherapy as a basic social service to those who are relatively mentally healthy.”
• The campaign should focus on children. “Even more cynical voters who doubted the measure’s means, merits, and objectives did not question the need to provide seriously emotionally disturbed children with the health care and psychiatric treatment they need.”
• Voters want a proven model. “Participants responded extremely favorably to the fact that this proposal was based on pilot programs throughout the state that have a successful track record.”
• Voters care about providing one essential service: mental health care/medical treatment of the illness. “Voters expressed little interest in other services as participants viewed them as less relevant. For example, though job training and permanent housing would be nice to provide, many participants questioned the ability of severely mentally ill people to perform a job, and few people wanted to make the long-term commitment that permanent housing requires. . . . In fact, voters are less likely to support a measure that covers more types of people and more services.”
• Voters do not wish to create a comprehensive social safety net with this initiative, which would provide everyone with mental health care. Children ranked as the top priority.
• Two issues did not resonate with voters: an economic-development argument and a public safety/law enforcement message. “This provides further evidence that voters are motivated more by compassion for this issue than fear, logic, or personal benefit.”
The conclusion drawn from a statewide telephone survey in March 2003 was this: “The fact that two-thirds of voters support this measure knowing its cost and after hearing arguments against it, many of which focus on cost, provides evidence that voters support the measure based on principle and that it is strong enough to overcome any concerns about its price tag, in spite of the state’s budget crisis and struggling economy.”
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