ST. PETERSBURG — Backers of the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum say they are moving closer to the level of support needed for the plan to pass by voters on Nov. 4.
The latest source of their confidence: an internal poll they say shows 59 percent of likely voters would agree to raise Pinellas County's sales tax by a penny to pay for expanded bus service and a light-rail system between St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
Conversely, 38 percent of 402 Pinellas residents surveyed said they would vote against the measure, according to the poll conducted June 10-12 by Strategic Guidance Systems, or SGS. Six percent said they were unsure.
Those numbers are up from the Gainesville company's February poll, when 55 percent said yes and 35 percent said no. The poll's margin of error was 4.9 percent.
The pro-transit group is encouraged by the bump considering the Vote Yes on Greenlight campaign has yet to start communicating with voters directly through mail, television and radio ads, campaign manager Joe Farrell said. He thinks most voters are learning of the plan through the media or outreach by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
"It shows people are accepting this plan based on its merits, which is fantastic," he said.
Friends of Greenlight, the political action committee created for the campaign, has paid $6,000 to SGS for consulting services, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections.
"Any internal polling that's paid for by (Friends of Greenlight) is, of course, suspect to us," said Barb Haselden, campaign manager for the opposition group No Tax for Tracks.
SGS used voter registration information and turnout data from the 2010 general election to create a sample of voters they think is representative of who will show up this November, SGS vice president Joel Searby said. The split among poll respondents was 41 percent in each of the two major parties.
Searby said the poll also showed that Greenlight picked up a 15-point increased in support among Republican voters since the group's February survey.
"Those numbers are improving to the point that we think the tide is turning among Republicans in Pinellas County," he said.
The poll also showed increasing support in North Pinellas, he said, which is considered crucial as those residents typically describe themselves as more conservative and car-loving than their south county counterparts.
Haselden noted that the turnout split in the 2010 election was closer to 44 percent Republicans and 37 percent Democrats. She said she hasn't seen evidence that the plan is gaining ground among Republicans.
"And I can tell you many Democrats are going to vote no to raising taxes," she said. "This is a pocketbook issue and people are looking at it that way."
Farrell said it will likely be mid to late summer before Friends of Greenlight, which is more than halfway toward its $1 million fundraising goal, starts dipping deep into that war chest. He said the campaign is ramping up its social media push and knocking on an average of about 2,500 doors a week.
Haselden said her group, which has raised about $32,000 so far, is still putting together its plan for the next few months. Her group's bright red and white campaign signs are popping up throughout the county. Its 40-foot sailboat bearing a large sign urging people to vote no will be bobbing in the waters off St. Petersburg and Fort De Soto this holiday weekend.
"It's exciting to see how many people are coming out of the woodwork," Haselden said. "I feel strongly that it's going to take a heck of a lot more money for them to sell their message than it will for us to sell ours."
Contact Tony Marrero at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.