Dave Brundage

Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Gregory J. Howard

Second Advisor

Dr. Barry Goetz

Third Advisor

Dr. Jesse Smith


Case study, heuristics, advertising, direct democracy, GMO labeling

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


In 2012, California became the first state to qualify a ballot measure for public vote on the topic of genetically modified food labeling. Proposition 37, The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, enjoyed overwhelming support leading up to the November elections. However, an 11th hour surge by the opposition led to its defeat. This case study examines the media messages deployed by the pro and antilabeling groups in an effort to understand how each side attempted to curry favor to their cause. Content analysis was performed on 27 television, radio, and internet advertisements broadcast during the campaign. Focused coding revealed two predominant themes, which were figures of authority and emotional appeals. The ads themselves are the end result of a process which is part of the initiative industry complex. This study strongly indicates that voters are manipulated into going against their best wishes by the public relations firms running initiative campaigns. As a whole, this determination throws into doubt just how democratic the process of initiative voting truly is.