Before beginning a campaign, it is critical to know what voters want, and how much they will pay for what they want. Well-constructed telephone polls or public opinion surveys can provide detailed information about the issues voters care most about and provide guidance for how to structure the ballot measure and draft its language. These days, polling of registered voters is conducted through a mix of land and cell phones to reflect the local usage.
Voters may regard park creation and land conservation as more, or less, important than other issues such as education, health care, public safety or unemployment. Recent news coverage, the state of the local economy, and political factors can have a substantial impact on what voters think. However, even if voters may not rate parks and conservation as important as other issues, it does not mean they would not be willing to pay for certain park and conservation benefits, at the right amount, with the right accountability elements built into the measure. In general, purposes such as protecting local water quality, preserving nearby farmland and local jobs, and providing parks and recreational opportunities for children tend to be popular with voters. It is important to poll in each jurisdiction to understand the values of the voters.
Additionally, polls that test a wide variety of issues enable campaign planners to structure a ballot measure to include other related issues such as historic preservation, affordable housing, improving water quality, public safety or other issues of importance. For example, in Dade County, Florida, in 1996, an early poll showed that the community was particularly concerned with gangs and drug violence. In response, community leaders included a major public safety component in a $200 million park acquisition measure. Voters overwhelming approved the “Safe Neighborhood Parks Act.”
Well-crafted polls by a reputable pollster also enable campaign planners to determine how much the public will invest in conservation. By testing specific language (e.g., “Would you be willing to pay $20 more per year for …?) polls can be used to calibrate the size of any bond measure or tax increase to keep it acceptable to a majority of voters and determine whether a measure can pass at all.
The Trust for Public Land works constantly with a battery of professional polling firms, from across the political spectrum, and does not conduct the polling itself. Rather we engage professional pollsters from around the country who have expertise in land conservation ballot measures and experience in your state, and help to manage those surveys to gauge voter support for funding methods, amounts and measures.
For more information call Linda Orel at 617-371-0526 or email Linda.Orel@tplactionfund.org.