The Issue

In the spring of 1997, supporters of Texas higher education succeeded in placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would open up new investment opportunities for the Permanent University Fund and Permanent School Fund.

The funds are the largest endowments for higher education in the world and support numerous Texas public universities.

The Phonebank

Just a few days before the election, we contacted 75,000 voters by phone to deliver a live personal message about Proposition 17’s benefits:

“Proposition 17 provides new funds for higher education with no increase in taxes, and without imposing additional fees on students.”


“This amendment would increase funding for the nearly 200,000 students currently attending one of the seventeen universities and medical schools within the UT and A&M system.”

Voters who agreed to support this amendment based on the information provided were told the voting dates and encouraged to vote in the upcoming election. Those opposed were thanked without giving details about this low-profile election.

The Results

On November 2, 1999, Proposition 17 passed by an overwhelming majority of 61% to 39%, and the higher education supporters received credit for the extensive grassroots campaign responsible for its success.

John Doner & Associates is proud of our role in this victory for higher education.

The Preliminary Survey

As with most constitutional amendments, the language was confusing. A baseline survey of likely voters determined that only 15% were “definitely for” the proposal, with another 23% “probably for” it, and 2% “leaning for” passage of the amendment as described on the ballot. 60% were opposed.

After the benefits of the amendment were explained, 62% of the voters in the survey strongly favored it. A comprehensive voter education campaign appeared necessary if the amendment was to pass.

The Grassroots Solution

Because of the additional concern that low turnout could skew the election and result in defeat, the supporters considered mounting a grassroots campaign to ensure that enough voters were familiar with the benefits of the proposed amendment (Proposition 17) and that the voters who favored it would turn out on election day.

However, there was no comprehensive database that identified constitutional amendment voters likely to support such a proposal. In the fall of 1999, the supporters contacted John Doner & Associates about creating such a database and implementing a plan to contact those voters, persuade them to support the amendment, and encourage them to turn out on election day. After a brief feasibility study, we assured them it was manageable within the short timeline and devised a comprehensive plan and budget.

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