By Sarah McBride
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California's 74-year-old governor, Jerry Brown, engineered a surprise victory for his tax-hike ballot proposition by tapping support at the other end of the age spectrum.
Proposition 30, a temporary $6 billion tax hike, passed with a solid 54 percent approval on Tuesday, driven largely by a higher-than-expected turnout of young voters, pollsters and analysts say.
The measure, a rare attempt by a state to raise taxes at a time of small-government fervor, was the cornerstone of Brown's plan to balance the state's $91 billion budget. Without it, the state would have to cut spending on schools and universities.
But in recent days, the proposition had seemed destined for failure, according to several polls. Brown, who began campaigning heavily for it in the last weeks of the election, held rallies at colleges, and many younger voters responded.
"It's the reversal of a historic trend," said Dan Schnur, director of the University of Southern California/Los Angeles Times poll, speaking about the normal difficulty of winning support for a tax measure in the waning days of a campaign. At the end of October, his poll showed only 46 percent of voters for the measure.
Young people made up about 28 percent of those who voted on Proposition 30, according to an exit poll from CNN, and 65 percent of them voted yes.
"We saw this amazing engagement that was fed by social media, on Facebook, on Twitter," said Scott Lay, president of the Community College League of California, an advocacy group.
The ability for the first time to complete the entire voter-registration process online contributed to the passage of the measure, he believes, because "young voters who registered online were more engaged."
As election day neared, polls from the Public Policy Institute of California, the California Business Roundtable with Pepperdine University, and the respected Field Poll, all showed less-than-majority support for Prop 30, and at best they labeled its chances a toss-up.
But Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, saw signs Brown could persuade undecided voters and told several reporters ahead of the election that Proposition 30 had a shot.
He cited data in his poll showing that undecided voters shared many characteristics with voters who favored Proposition 30, including a favorable view of Brown, a sense that they were paying about the right amount in taxes, and concern over budget cuts that could kick in if the measure failed.
"If you looked at the 14 percent that were undecided, they held views that were more in line with "Yes" voters," said DiCamillo. "All it needed was about three points from the undecided."
Brown's push in recent days for the initiative undoubtedly helped, including his visits to colleges and his attendance at a group of last-minute events, the pollsters said. On Monday, for example, Brown touted the measure at gatherings in San Diego, Burbank, Fresno, Sacramento and San Francisco.
(Editing by Peter Henderson and Philip Barbara)