News Archive for August, 2013

For Immediate Release: August 22, 2013

FM3 Poll: Backing for BART Tax or Bond

From an August 21 article by Michael Cabanatuan in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Voters in three Bay Area counties support BART, even if they don’t ride it, and would back ballot measures boosting sales or property taxes to improve the transit system, a public opinion poll shows.

The poll, which has not been released publicly, has been circulating in BART headquarters and among insiders, including labor negotiators. It’s been mentioned during the transit agency’s labor dispute, which has featured a 4 1/2-day strike and a month-long contract extension and is now in the midst of a 60-day cooling-off period ordered by Gov.Jerry Brown. No negotiations are currently scheduled.

Pollsters randomly dialed 1,102 registered voters in the BART district – Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties – between April 25 and May 5. The poll has a 3.4 percent margin of error. It is important to note, however, that it was taken well before the July strike.

Still, the results are promising for the transit agency, which has said it needs to raise billions of dollars over the next 15 to 20 years to pay for its share of the $15 billion needed to buy new rail cars, build a modern train maintenance center and upgrade its aging train control system.

In recent years, polls consistently showed a lack of support for tax measures to pay for transportation and infrastructure improvements. But the most recent BART poll, by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, found that 72 percent of those surveyed would support an additional sales tax, while 69 percent would vote for a general obligation bond, which would increase property taxes. Both would have to capture better than two-thirds of the votes in an election to pass.

Sales tax vs. bond

The greatest support – 75 percent – was for a one-eighth of a cent sales tax, with a quarter-cent tax getting 68 percent support and a one-sixteenth of a cent tax garnering 73 percent backing. An $850 million bond received 74 percent backing, compared with 69 percent for a $1.4 billion bond and 63 percent for a $3 billion bond.

BART officials and representatives of its unions may not agree on much, but both were pleased with the results of the poll.

“That’s very strong feedback on a possible ballot measure,” said Alicia Trost, a BART spokeswoman. “This is the first time in years that the numbers have really showed such strong support.”

BART directors have discussed the possibility of a ballot measure for a few years, but poll results found little support, so the idea languished. But since the start of the year, BART officials have repeatedly mentioned a ballot measure as a necessary part of a funding package to pay for improvements.

“They haven’t decided,” Trost said. “But it would certainly play a role in our shared responsibility approach.”

Chris Daly, a representative for Service Employees International Union Local 1021, the transit agency’s largest union, said the poll results show that BART doesn’t need to squeeze money out of its employees to modernize the train system. He pointed out that even after pollsters offered the potential argument that a BART tax “will get squandered on huge salaries and pensions for BART employees,” 69 percent of those questioned still said they would support a tax measure.

“BART’s argument that it needs to stick it to the unions to get money to pay for improvements doesn’t make sense in light of the survey,” he said.

On workers and pay

The poll also included a handful of questions about BART employees and their compensation. About 71 percent thought employees should contribute to their pensions, 72 percent said they should pay part of their health insurance increases, and 78 percent believed they should have to work more than 40 hours a week before collecting overtime. But about 78 percent agreed that BART employees should “receive pay increases to keep pace with the cost of living in the Bay Area.”

For Immediate Release: August 19, 2013

FM3 Poll: California Voters Defy Stereotypes

From an August 17 article by John Diaz in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Let’s begin by dismissing some stereotypes and tenets of conventional wisdom about California voters. They do follow developments about state government and politics – not as much as they track the weather, the ultimate local story, but more than they follow news about sports or entertainment. They do want to become engaged in civic life. They do trust the professional journalists in mainstream media more than any other single source of information, far more than bloggers and their friends and family members.

Perhaps most heartening, and surprising, in this age of Fox News and MSNBC echo chambers: Most don’t merely seek out news that reinforces their own beliefs.

These were among the key findings of a fascinating new in-depth study of how California voters receive and process information about state government and politics. The survey of 3,500 Californians’ news and media habits was conducted by the respected polling firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates for the James Irvine Foundation as part of its California Democracy Program.

If two words could describe how Californians of varied demographic groups receive their news about public policy decisions, they would be “sophisticated” and “discriminating.”

In essence, they go to multiple sources for news, and they don’t necessarily accept what they receive from at any given stop. For example, 68 percent of the respondents cited “professional journalists working for mainstream media” as their most-used source for California government and politics – no other option exceeded single digits – yet only 46 percent of them counted it as their most trusted and reliable source of information.

As President Ronald Reagan famously put it, “Trust, but verify.”

This finding should be cause for contemplation from those in mainstream media – especially that 22-point gap between relying on and trusting us – but is also cause for relief for those of us who worried that voters were custom-tailoring their news menus to exclude points of view that dissented from their own.

Dan Schnur, veteran Republican strategist who now directs the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, coined the phrase “iPodization of politics” to describe the phenomenon of Americans tuning into talk radio and cable TV shows that reinforce their own predispositions. As Schnur has duly noted, this trend has its healthy aspects in empowering people to go to the original points of information – speeches, position papers, voting records – without a media filter.

But it also comes with at a cost: People who rely on like-minded media can be shielded from facts that might change their perceptions, or could become prone to join the hosts’ hysteria in demonizing the opposition. A commitment to finding common ground is essential to making a democracy work – and is sorely missing in both a divided Washington and a Democratic-dominated Sacramento.

The survey suggests that most Californians are well aware of the perils of polarization. Just 1 in 5 voters seeks out news that reinforces his or her beliefs. The largest group, 44 percent, prefers sources of news that don’t have a particular point of view.

“That was very heartening,” said Amy Dominguez-Arms, director of the Irvine Foundation’s California Democracy Program.

Roger Salazar, a Democratic communications consultant who has worked in the state Capitol and the White House, said one of the striking findings was the extent to which voters had “become their own editors.” He noted that such practices – seeking out multiple sources of information, ever so skeptically – were especially evident among ethnic voters.

There is relatively little distinction in the use of mainstream media between ethnic and white voters, the study found. But 4 out of 5 ethnic voters said they get at least occasional news from ethnic media sources – though just 14 percent rely on it as a primary source of information about government and politics.

White voters are more likely (45 percent) to say their primary news source “covers issues that I care about” than African Americans (41 percent), Latinos (39 percent) or Asians (34 percent).

Also, not surprisingly, differences in perspective on news correlated with method of delivery. Online readers are more likely to be concerned about public education and climate change; print readers are more concerned about crime, gas prices and immigration. Online readers are more open to the notion of higher taxes and more government. They tend to be younger and more liberal.

These findings are likely to be scrutinized closely in the worlds of politics, academia and journalism. For our opinion pages, one very clear message is that many Californians want to engage in civic life, and they look to their news sources for guidance on how and when to do it for optimal effect.

It’s an important reminder of our role as promoter of public engagement and navigator of public policy, and one that will be reflected on our editorial pages.

A snapshot of California voters

Here are some of the findings of new statewide research for the James Irvine Foundation (irvine.org):

Interested

59% say they enjoy keeping up with the news “a lot”

57% say they are “very” or “extremely” interested in news about government or state politics

8% say they don’t keep up with the news

Independent

44% say they prefer news sources that don’t have a particular point of view

21% seek out news that reinforces their beliefs

Engaged

61% say they have engaged in an activity in the past year that involves them in their community’s civic life

68% say that television, radio, newspaper or Internet news sources let them know how they can get involved

Whom do they trust most about state government and politics?

46% Professional journalists working for mainstream media

10% Citizen journalists or bloggers

10% Community groups or leaders

9% Friends and family

8% Professional journalists working for ethnic media