Updated at the bottom with complete vote totals.
Proposition 33, the California ballot measure that would change the state's regulations for auto insurance, looks likely to be defeated, according to preliminary election results last night.
With 65 percent of precincts reporting, only 46 percent were in favor of the measure, with 54 percent opposed. Since that number has held steady, it seems unlikely that Prop 33 will find it difficult to make up lost ground, although results at this hour are still preliminary.
And that is very bad news for George Joseph.
Joseph, the billionaire founder of Mercury Insurance, spent nearly $17 million to push the measure. And Mercury spent almost exactly that amount two years ago on a similar ballot measure, Prop. 17, only to lose narrowly.
That appears to be $34 million down with little to show for it.
Joseph has said he was pushing the measure to increase competition in the industry, but consumer advocates pointedly questioned that in light of Mercury's record (and Joseph's over-the-top wealth). Those consumer groups appear to have successfully fought Prop 33 despite being badly outspent: They reported just $275,000 in spending to date, according to the Voter's Edge website. That's less than 2 percent of Joseph's expenditures.
UPDATE: With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Prop 33 was a clear loser. Forty-five percent of voters said “yes” to Joseph's plan, with 54.6 percent opposed.