Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Shifting Sands of Stem Cell Support

New Jersey voters on Tuesday sent a message to sanguine supporters of stem cell research in California: Do not assume that the public is always behind you.

Analysis this morning of the election results is a bit preliminary but news reports are characterizing the rejection of the $450 million stem cell research measure as a surprise.

And it is not good news for those in California who find reassurance in the 59 percent voter approval of Proposition 71 in 2004, the measure that created the state's $3 billion stem cell program.

We have pointed out previously that stem cell research is not well understood by the public. Support for it is weak despite often rosy polls that seem to indicate it is a motherhood issue, at least in the eyes of some at CIRM. That is not the case, as shown in a poll by the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life. According to that survey, support dropped from 57 percent nationally two years ago to 51 percent in August this year. It also showed that 55 percent of the public had heard little or nothing about stem cell research.

The New Jersey vote signals that it is imperative for CIRM to move forward thoughtfully and effectively on its public education/PR plans and promptly fill the vacant position of chief communications officer.

The New Jersey vote showed the vulnerability of stem cell research in the political marketplace. Voters can be fickle. To forestall erosion of support in California, CIRM must move to shore up its weaknesses. Those include its penchant for closed doors and secrecy – all of which breed suspicion and provide a recipe for scandal.

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