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Will Respondents Of $75,000 Arts Poll Reflect Actual Voters?

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Backers of a proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase for the arts are pinning their hopes on a May poll that showed Mecklenburg voters support the tax hike – so long as an advertising campaign tells them what it’s for. (The ballot language won’t give any details about the tax.)

The poll by the Well World Solutions, of Washington, D.C., noted that support for raising the sales tax “more than doubles when voters are informed that the resulting funds will be used to fund art, science, history and heritage initiatives – 28 percent to 65 percent,” said the summary of the poll by Well World Solutions, of Washington D.C.

In reading the 29-page poll, as well as email from county leaders about the tax, a couple of things stand out: The Charlotte Regional Business Alliance paid Well World Solutions $75,000 for the poll, which used live interviews instead of robocalls. But even though polling used real people asking the questions, some political observers indicated they were surprised at how much the alliance paid. The second takeaway is whether the poll accurately reflects what the electorate will be in November, when the tax is on the ballot.

The poll reached 1,000 adult Mecklenburg residents. Of those, 879 people had voted in the November 2018 election. But the November election had the highest turnout nationally of any midterm since 1966, and Mecklenburg turnout was 51 percent.

The electorate will be different in November.

In the November 2017 election, Mecklenburg turnout was 21 percent. This year, almost all of the Charlotte City Council races will have been decided, and Mayor Vi Lyles does not have a credible Republican opponent. Turnout could hover around 15 percent.

Why does that matter?

The poll found that the people supporting the tax were younger than 35; had household incomes of more than $75,000; and were ideologically liberal or moderate. In other words, those are the type of voters who came out in November’s Blue Wave – but who might not this year.

Mousumi Sarkar, of Well World Solutions, said in an interview that the different mix of voters could impact the results. However, she said the poll found that a little more than half of Republicans supported the tax, so long as they knew what it was for.

Well World Solutions, after reviewing which messages polled the best, suggested the message for the arts tax supporters could be:

“The presence of arts and cultural activities in a community enriches our communities and neighborhoods by fostering greater understanding among people, by increasing our personal creativity, happiness and well being, and by attracting more businesses and jobs to the area because of increased tourism and other economic activities.”

This article was originally published in WFAE's newsletter Inside Politics with Steve Harrison. To get more insightful political coverage like this first each week sign up to recieve Inside Politics

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.