The following is the second installment of a post election analysis by John Fairbank, pollster for the League of California Cities and pricipal at the firm of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates.
This past Tuesday I posted the first part of our analysis as to why the majority of the city revenue measures in California passed this November, even in the face of an increasingly negative economic climate. As I mentioned previously, we at Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates ( FMM
- Planning for high voter turnout by turning out the “right” voters
- Addressing economic concerns head-on
- Targeting early voters
In Part 1 I discussed how important we found it to reach out to the “right” voters in November’s high voter turnout election. In this posting, I’m going to discuss our second explanation – addressing economic concerns head-on.
Addressing Economic Concerns Head-on
As the economy started to deteriorate over the spring and summer and the financial sector melted down in October, many in our industry – not to mention many of our city clients – became nervous that voters’ financial concerns would overwhelm any potential gains generated by increased voter turnout. When voters see their retirement accounts losing 50% of their value, foreclosure signs popping up in their neighborhoods, and their neighbors (or themselves) getting pink slips, the idea of voters electing to increase taxes on themselves seems like a pretty tall order.
In the course of conducting our research for our city clients, we came across an interesting finding – messages that most often served as effective secondary appeals in past elections were resonating more strongly with voters in this electoral environment. These concepts had been used as complimentary themes in past campaigns, but this year the following messages were just as important as communicating the urgency of funding vital city services:
- Our research demonstrated that it was highly effective to emphasize that a local finance measure generated a stable, local funding source for their communities at a time when federal and state governments face significant deficits that are resulting in budget cuts to local services (local control). Additionally, because local tax dollars fund critical city services and programs essential to everyday life there is a greater willingness to accept marginal tax increases. Therefore, a local tax increase is much more palatable to voters as this money will stay in their community for local services rather than going to the state or federal governments who appear to be incapable of properly managing taxpayer dollars.
- Because of growing skepticism among voters that their tax dollars would be used as promised, we found that reassuring voters that their local dollars would be spent wisely and efficiently due to the strong oversight and accountability provisions (audits, citizens’ oversight and public expenditure reports) was a very effective and necessary message.
Additionally, we believe that voters perceived these finance measures as ways to help mute the negative impacts of the economic downturn. One of the most significant factors in this crisis has been falling home values. Obviously, many items factor into determining home prices: location, the size of the home or lot, the quality of the local schools, etc. Of course, the quality of city services also plays an important role. Are the neighborhoods safe? Are there programs to keep kids off the streets, out of trouble and away from gangs? Are the roads well maintained? Are the local parks clean and safe for families? We believe that this was not lost upon voters and they determined that these relatively affordable finance measures were needed to help maintain or improve their local communities and therefore help buoy their home values. While this message was not directly communicated to many voters in our client cities, we have seen this theme conveyed by voters in our focus group research, and feel that it played an important role in generating support at the ballot box.
In my next posting on this subject for CaliforniaCityNew.org, I’ll discuss the remaining key factor – targeting early voters. Please feel free to contact me in Santa Monica (310-828-1183 or firstname.lastname@example.org) or Dave Metz in Oakland (510-451-9521 or email@example.com) if you would like to discuss our findings in any more detail.