Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New in-depth poll shows solid support for privatization

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.


Rufus said...

The beer industry won't buy in until the $150,000 "enhanced" license fee is severely reduced or eliminated. Spokesman for the governor also mentioned a $10,000 annual renewal fee on top of that. When the beer industry feels that the governor is not trying to put them out of business, they will come around.

Lew Bryson said...

If they expect to get an all-alcohol license for free, they'll wind up out of negotiations. Time to cut a deal...not look for a free lunch. Everyone is going to be paying an annual fee.

Rufus said...

Erm, the "enhanced" license does not include liquor. It is not an "all-alcohol" license.

You and the governor are all about the "free market," right? "We need a free market in alcohol!" It's pretty hypocritical to want a free market, but not for everyone. A free market does not include a barrier to entry set by government that eliminates competition. It is simply amazing that free market advocates conveniently look past this.

The only free ride would include corporations, whose alcohol license fee can be made in one business day.

Lew Bryson said...

Sorry, got confused. You're right, that's that deal, and $150,000 to get it is just silly. But everyone is going to be paying an annual fee. That's how it's going to be going forward.

But Rufus, I've already said I agree that beer distributors shouldn't have to pay anything extra to sell sixpacks. Paying $150,000 for it is ridiculous. But they're going to have to get in there and negotiate for it. That's how legislation works. They've already sunk this once; they just let the privatization legislators know that they're fully prepared to sink it again, and start dealing.

But please, don't start talking about "free market." Selling alcohol beverages is NOT a free market in Pennsylvania, it never has been, and it never will be. It's not in most other states. That's just how it is. The beer distributors will have to get involved (why do I feel like I've been saying this to you for a week, over and over...?) to get the bill they want. (If I were them, I'd push hard for a deal on getting all-alc licenses for distributors: not free, but a deal.)

Because, again, things are changing. They can't just sit it out.

And again...this is NOT the bill that will be put up for a final vote. It WILL change. And I'm not 100% in favor of it, I've got changes I want to see. Don't make the mistake of thinking I support every part of the bill. I want privatization, and I want to move toward it in the way that's best for everyone involved: not just beer distributors, or union members, or even consumers, though God knows, they've been ignored completely up till now. For everyone. You don't get a bill passed by pissing people off. You get it passed by putting something in there for everyone. Consumers want the case law to GO AWAY, and I don't see any reason to charge anyone for that: make it happen, period. Okay?

Rufus said...

Lew, thank you for recognizing the ridiculous and anti-competitive nature of the "enhanced" license fee.

The governor and his people brought up the "free market." I am simply pointing out their mistake with this.

I got to sit in on a conference call yesterday with the governor's office and several beer distributors. The governor's representatives made it clear that this "enhanced" license fee is something they will push very hard for, since they seem to think it is fair. They made it clear this part of the proposal is something they will not negotiate. I understand that this is not a bill and things will change, but the governor has some sway on this with the Republican controlled congress. That is my concern.

The conference call also revealed that many beer distributor owners are (reluctantly) willing to work with this. The governor's representatives showed that they want to eliminate beer distributors. They will do what they can to do just that. Maybe it's not just beer distributors who are the stubborn ones.

And let's be real. If the government didn't propose such an atrocious fee, there would be a much more tempered reaction.

Lew Bryson said...

Was it made more clear what benefit there would be from the "enhanced" license? Was it more than just sixpack sales?

Rufus said...

The "enhanced" license will allow beer distributors to sell six packs, twelve packs and unlimited bottles of wine. They will be the only establishment allowed to sell unlimited quantities of each (per trip). This is the entirety of the $150,000 fee plus possible annual renewal.

In addition to the "enhanced" license, beer distributors will have first bid for retail liquor licenses. There will be a minimum bid (which wasn't quantified)and the highest bidder wins. The bidding is opened up to anyone after beer distributors have a chance. A beer distributor will be the only store which will be allowed to sell beer, wine and liquor all under one roof. All other license holders must have a store entirely dedicated to selling liquor. The number of liquor licenses available in each county will be based on the number of existing state stores and the licenses must remain in those counties.

Anonymous said...

The fact that biggest drinkers favor privatization the most and those that don't drink favor it the least is no surprise. I'll let the designated drivers take the wheel and put the views of the heavy boozers in the back seat! Happy belated Lew! John Rz

Lew Bryson said...

Classic that you assume people who are in your store as often as ONCE a week as "heavy boozers." No surprise that drinking=abusing in your mind.

Unknown said...

Just read a synopsis of the bill on PhillyBurbs.com. HB790 if you want to look it up on the legislative website.

Don't like it one bit. It looks to me like a giveaway to the big box stores (see licensee fees).

Beer distributors have to pay 150,000 for the "privilege" of selling 6 packs, wine, and hard liquor. Plus 10,000 for renewal. Other stores only have to pay between 10,000 and 25,000 depending on the type of license. Plus between 700 and 1,000 for renewal.

Lew Bryson said...

Giveaway for the big box stores is more than a bit strong, but the $150,000 for the beer distributors is way high. I'm guessing that the $150,000 is a signal to the beer distributors that they should come to the table to do some serious negotiations, because things are going to change. The beer distributors are key to this; they sank the last one.
My preference on that: GIVE them sixpack sales for free, make them pay a fee similar to the big box/grocery stores for wine sales. Allow them to bid on all-alcohol licenses.