Support for Greenlight Pinellas depends on how the question is asked

By on April 28, 2014
survey

A few fascinating takeaways come out of the latest poll gauging voter interest in the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum.

One is that Pinellas County voters overwhelmingly love the idea of better transportation options, but quickly lose interest when asked to pay for them, according a new StPetePolls survey commissioned by this blog.

Voters are receptive to the idea of a proposed tax increase to pay for expanded bus service and other improvements — including light rail — but only when asked in the right way.

Nearly seven in 10 likely voters (68%) agree the area needs better transportation options, with only 21% saying it does not; 11% said they were unsure.

A faster, more frequent bus network countywide is also popular, with voters saying it is a good idea by a majority of 65%-26%.

Voters also favor light rail in Pinellas County by a 63%-29% margin, and that a commuter line between downtown St. Petersburg to the Gateway area and downtown Clearwater is a good idea. A proximately, 8% were not sure.

In contrast, when voters were asked if they were willing to pay more in taxes for expanded transit options, support dropped to just 42% saying yes and more than half of respondents (51%) saying no.

The survey is the latest attempt to evaluate public interest in the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum, which hast the task of asking voters in November to accept a one-cent sales tax increase to pay for a multitude of public transportation improvements, including 65 percent more bus service and a 24-mile light rail corridor.

Interestingly enough, when voters gave their opinion on the basic details of Greenlight Pinellas — without actually calling it by name – backing for the initiative improved.

In fact, to ensure the hype around the issue did not color the opinions of respondents, the only mention of “Greenlight Pinellas” was in the brief introduction.

The question posed to voters was “Do you support or oppose the proposed referendum to increase the sales tax by one cent to build a light rail system and expand bus service in Pinellas County?”

When asked that way, support flipped with 53%, and 40%; 7% remained undecided.

This most recent polling demonstrates one fundamental issue when trying to garner support for Greenlight Pinellas — terms matter.

For example, the newest StPetePolls study called it a “one cent” increase, which differs from the actual wording on the initiative, referring to the tax increase as “one percent,” a term also used several previous polls.

Does it matter to supporters of Greenlight Pinellas? The answer is clearly … perhaps.

On the surface, it seems that basic support for the idea of transit expansion in Pinellas County is gaining traction. An earlier poll, conducted in October and December by the Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9, had 55% of voters saying they would back the referendum, 36% oppose it, and 9% were not sure. The last question of the StPetePolls/SaintPetersBlog survey was phrased exactly as the Times asked it.

To put it in context, though, the Times poll had a much smaller sampling, only about 300 people or less than a fifth to the newer poll, and has a much higher margin of error, at +/- 5.7 percent.

The April 24 study used automated phone call polling system for a sample size of 1697  randomly chosen Pinellas County voters who intend to vote in the November elections. The results have a margin of error of +/- 2.4 percent at a 95 percent confidence level. Numbers were also weighted to account for relative differences between the respondents’ demographics and that of the registered voter population for the region.

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