Less than three months into an unprecedented drive to give Californians an opportunity to vote on the nuclear arms race, the proposed ballot measure already is drawing strong support from across the state's political spectrum.
According to a just-released California Poll, the proposed initiative - which calls for a US-USSR bilateral ''freeze'' on the production, testing, and deployment of nuclear weapons - enjoys a nearly 2-to-1 margin of approval among Californians.
Although young adults, Democrats, and liberals support the initiative by the most overwhelming margins (75 percent of those polled who define themselves as liberal, for example, support the measure), majorities of conservative, older, and independent voters also back the initiative. Republicans are almost evenly split.
''What this shows is that the initiative is striking some instinctive nerve, '' says Mervin Field, director of the California Poll. ''The support is fairly widespread. . . . It looks like the public has an instinctive support for it.''
If the initiative qualifies, as expected, for this November's ballot, it will mark the first time in US history that such a measure has been put to a statewide vote. Some observers here hail it as a potentially significant vote - one that could spark similar measures in other states, and that could attract global attention as citizens across the US and in Western Europe grow increasingly vocal in expressing their concerns about nuclear proliferation.
The signature-gathering phase of the drive, launched in December, already has yielded approximately 350,000 signatures - slightly more than the number that must be collected by late April to qualify the initiative for the November ballot.
Organizers say they will continue their push to collect at least 500,000 signatures to ensure there will be more than enough of them declared valid by Secretary of State March Fong Eu.
Although dozens of well-known individuals from the scientific, academic, religious, medical, and entertainment communities have endorsed the initiative, the campaign to tell people about the petition will be built on grass-roots organizing.
Citizen volunteers - nearly 7,000, according to campaign coordinator Harold Willens - will hold informal get-togethers for their friends, at which the dangers of the nuclear arms race will be discussed. Similar gatherings will be held in churches and temples across the state, and speakers will be sent to Rotarian, Kiwanis, and other service clubs. In addition, television and radio spots will be aired.
''We're taking this campaign to the heartland, geographically and ideologically,'' says Mr. Willens, who led US businessmen in a protest of the war in Vietnam in the 1960s. ''I have a passionate conviction that this issue has been burdened with partisan, political, and ideological baggage that just don't belong.
''We're all for national security and strong defense, but if 200 thermonuclear devices can effectively destroy any adversary on Earth, where is the sense in having 30,000 nuclear weapons (the estimated total in US stockpiles)?'' he continues. ''It's just a matter of taking that simple question to the citizens. . . .''
So far, no organized opposition to the initiative has emerged, although some scientists from the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory near San Francisco have criticized the measure in television and newspaper interviews as a move that would put the US at a nuclear disadvantage with the USSR.