Today, the Commonwealth Foundation (a pro-business, conservative/libertarian Harrisburg policy group) released results from a poll they commissioned from Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, a public opinion research group based in Santa Monica. I'd note from the beginning that FM3 does scientific polling, and is a group that mostly works with Democratic political candidates (almost exclusively, as you can see from this client list). CF president Matt Brouillette took pains to point that out, explaining that they didn't want an easy poll from a supportive group, they wanted an honest result. I got an invite to attend a briefing on the polling data last night, and it was an interesting evening.(The highlights are presented in a slideshow here.)
In the last week of January 2013, FM3 polled 800 randomly-selected PA registered voters (using both cell and landline phones), then did an "oversampling" of more extensive interviews with 200 voters in the "outer Philadelphia market," essentially the southeast part of the state without Philadelphia County itself. Their research found some of the strongest support for privatization in that part of the state, and they wanted to look at what made up that support.
Enough about how the poll was done. Overall, 41% strongly favored ending state-run liquor stores, 19% "somewhat favored" it. 20% strongly opposed, 14% "somewhat opposed." 61% in favor, 35% opposed, 5% don't know/no answer. Note that there was a much lower "don't know" response than in the recent F&M poll that found 53% in favor. The pollster noted that in the F&M poll, the privatization question was a much simpler one (do you favor privatization of the liquor stores), and it immediately followed the question about the very unpopular privatization of the state lottery, which likely had an effect.
In the polled folks' own words, and in descending order, the strongest reasons for supporting privatization: less government regulation (which surprised me); convenience/buying beer/wine in supermarkets; 'keeping up' with other states/seen it work in other states (the pollster noted a kind of competitive spirit here, people feeling that the state was behind the other states in this aspect); better prices (note: this is fourth on the list); private enterprise is better; more choices/variety; more money for local economy; waste of tax dollars; ability to have booze shipped to home (way down the list...). Other reasons had 2% support or less.
Another interesting point: I've always complained that newspaper articles ask the people who are actually shopping in the LCB stores if they're satisfied. If they weren't, they'd be in Maryland, I always thought. Well...the poll asked how often people purchased from the State Stores. Support for privatization was strongest (77%!) among the most frequent purchasers! I suspect this is probably the people who are not close to a border; because those of us who are generally are buying across that border... The strongest opposition to privatization -- in fact, the ONLY group of people asked this question who opposed privatization -- is among people who admit that they NEVER purchase anything at the State Stores. Teetotalers and anti-alcohol types, in other words. Only 35% support privatization.
Geographic breakdown? The ONLY area opposed to privatization is Philadelphia County, 50% opposed, 46% in favor. Allegheny County: 69% in favor. "Outer Philadelphia" as explained above: 66% in favor. "The T," that part of the state left after carving out the southwest and southeast corners, made famous by James Carville in his characterization of Pennsylvania as "Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between": a surprising 62% in favor! Northeast PA: 59% in favor. I talked to a representative from the T area who was at the event, whose district was not one I'd expect to support privatization for social conservative reasons. "They're rednecks," he said, "redneck libertarians." We could be seriously over-estimating the opposition to this.
What else? Well, there's very little gender split: 62% of men and 60% of women support it. The older a voter is, the less-likely they are to support privatization: in all age groups but the oldest, a majority support it (75+ year olds only support it by 49%, but only 42% are opposed). Party affiliation: support is strongest among Independents -- 71% -- and Republicans -- 69% -- but even 52% of Democrats support it. Surprisingly, support was stronger among self-identified liberal Democrats, which I think shows the truth of what I've been saying: this is not a classic privatization issue; this is not really a union issue. This is about correcting a mistake.
Union members? 52% of union members support privatization, and 58% of people in union households support it. That's compared to 61% in non-union households; almost within margin of error.
But possibly the most interesting and promising takeaway from the poll is what happened when people were presented with arguments against privatization after making their initial response. The pollster said that support for a proposition usually melts a bit after arguments against it are presented; 10-15% is normal. I'll remind you: overall, the support for privatization at the initial question was 61%. After hearing only the supporters' arguments, 61% still favored it. After hearing only the opponent's arguments -- which were essentially the UFCW talking points as presented by Wendell W. Young IV --
61% still favored privatization. And after hearing both sets of arguments, support was at 62%.
The weakest opposition argument was no surprise: people reacted very negatively to the "we should modernize rather than privatize" proposition. Only 19% found that credible, and those who did not were quite firm about it.
Is privatization an important issue for people, one that will influence how they vote for governor or legislator based on how the incumbent voted? No, it is not. Under 20% felt that strongly on either side of the issue. But...that means while there is not much upside for a politician voting for privatization, there is also very little downside on voting for privatization. There is not an army of social conservative voters, or a horde of angry union voters, who will vote out of office anyone who votes for privatization.
To sum up: about 61% of Pennsylvanians are in favor of privatization, a number that has been consistent for decades. The only group in the state that is opposed are Philadelphia voters, and even there, it's a narrow divide: 50% opposed, 46% in favor.
We had a chance to ask the pollster questions, and Matt Brouillette asked a good one. "If you had been hired by [UFCW president] Wendell W. Young, what would you advise as a strategy after presenting these results to him?" And the pollster, from the firm that has worked mostly for Democratic candidates, done polling for AFSCME, for the Sierra Club, for the California School Employee Association...said, "I'd say cut a deal."
This is NOT a done deal. This proposal needs work, and especially needs to get buy-in from the beer industry. But I feel a lot better after hearing these results. The work begins.