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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Analysis: Examining Parcel Tax Poll Results

The Vanguard ran two polls simultaneously from Thursday July 10, 2008 until Monday July 14, 2008.

The first poll asked people who they would vote for in the Presidential Election if the election were held now. 127 people voted in that poll, 95 of them (74%) voted for Obama, 19 (14%) for McCain, 7 (5%) for Nader and 6 (4%) were undecided.

The second poll was asking people how they would vote on the parcel tax. 117 people voted in that poll, 57% said yes and 35% said no with 8% undecided.

The second poll is actually the result we were most interested in. As some people figured out, we ran the Presidential poll in order to get some kind of baseline reading. The poll itself is not scientific, it is not a random poll, we have no idea who did or did not participate in it, we have no idea how representative it is off the population. However, having the Presidential election results give us some clues about the profile that make the second poll more useful than it otherwise would have been.

So now a few observations. I was actually a bit surprised there was only a 10 vote drop off in participation from the Presidential poll to the Parcel Tax poll. It makes it a little easier to evaluate with such a narrow gap. After all, while the blog is focused on Davis, people from outside of Davis also read this blog.

Despite the lack of scientific polling, the results for this poll were almost identical to the district's poll results when they polled for the $140 parcel tax. Theirs was 56% to 36% with 8% undecided.

What's interesting as well is that back in October we ran a poll on Measures P and Q and those numbers showed around 70% percent support, about the same percentage as voted in the actual election.

So the raw numbers of the Vanguard polling seems to be close to the actual results at least on this issue.

What was most important I think, is comparing the results of the Presidential poll to that of the Parcel Tax. The district is relying on the Presidential election and the enthusiasm for Obama to bring out a strong liberal vote that they hope will also support the parcel tax.

However, our results show a significant fall off from Obama to the Parcel Tax in terms of support. Yes on the Parcel Tax got 28 fewer votes than Obama. No on the Parcel Tax got 23 more votes than McCain. That indicates as much as a 33% fall from support to Obama to support for the parcel tax. That's a pretty sizable drop off and it is a drop off in a key group--people who are inclined to vote for a perceived liberal Democrat are less inclined to vote for a school tax increase.

Clearly if you are a strategist for the school board this is a group that you want to target. Ordinarily you would think that people inclined to support Obama would also be inclined to support the parcel tax. However, that is not what is occurring in this case. There appears to be a segment of Obama supporters who are not supporting the parcel tax.

A final observation, there is a lot of expressed opposition in the comments section of the Vanguard. It does appear that these comments represents a very vocal minority of the readership of the Vanguard. Unfortunately, it is a large enough minority to prevent the parcel tax from winning the poll with the super-majority that it needs to pass in an actual election.

As I have stated in the past, I think the school district has made it difficult on itself by putting the parcel tax on the ballot in November. They have also made it difficult asking for $120 rather than $80. Their logic for the latter is that $120 is what they actually need rather than necessarily what they believe they can easily pass. They also do not want to put teachers through a potential layoff process again, like they did last winter and spring.

I understand that rationale, but this election is clearly going to require a tremendous educational campaign. The district understands the concerns of the public and their desire for accountability. They have already built in protections for a number of the expressed concerns.

The district also believes, as do I, that they have no other reasonable choice but to try to pass a parcel tax. If the vote fails, and right now it looks like that is a distinct possibility, it means cutting core programs. I have asked opponents to suggest where they would make cuts--to this point no one's proposal has come anywhere close to the $2.3 to $2.7 needed to balance the budget that the parcel tax will provide. This last winter and spring, was an awful time, with students marching to save their classes and their teachers. The district does not want to relive that, but it will if this parcel tax does not pass.

Key questions still remain. We saw last week people passing around fliers trying to get renters to oppose the parcel tax. A few renters came to the school board meeting in opposition. The question is whether this reflects a larger movement to organize against the parcel tax or if this was an isolated incident.

Nevertheless, the district should be concerned about these results. This is going to be a long, hard and expensive battle and key constituencies may be surfacing in opposition. The next few months will be very critical for the district to organize a strong educational campaign to the public about why this parcel tax is necessary and why this is not a permanent tax increase and it does not represent a new tax every year.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting