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Voters not backing proposed amendments, Times/Herald Bay News 9 poll shows

TALLAHASSEE — If Florida voters seem eager to throw incumbents out of office this year, they appear even more likely to vote down constitutional amendments.

Proposals to loosen Florida's class size caps, to limit the Legislature's power to protect lawmakers' seats and to put some building and development questions on local ballots all appear headed toward defeat, according to a new St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9 poll.

Nearly one in every three voters is undecided on most of the ballot questions, the poll shows, but pollsters warn that most people are only now starting to examine the issues.

"The language for all of these is a little bit dense, so it seems natural to me that people are not sure how they will vote," said Julia Clark, pollster for Ipsos Public Affairs, which conducted the survey.

The amendment proposals with the best chance of passing are 5 and 6, which would prohibit state lawmakers from drawing legislative or congressional districts that favor incumbents or political parties.

The pair, which were included in the same poll question, are viewed favorably among 45 percent of likely voters. But that number is well short of the 60 percent approval needed to amend the state Constitution.

Gaining another 15 points from the 31 percent of undecided voters would be "a tough road," pollsters said.

"The trend has been getting more favorable, but it's been doing so fairly slowly," Ipsos pollster Chris Jackson said.

The telephone survey of 801 registered voters, including 577 likely voters, was conducted Oct. 15-19 for the St. Petersburg Times, Miami Herald, Bay News 9 and Central Florida News 13. The poll was done by Ipsos, a Washington, D.C.-based independent, nonpartisan research company. The margin of error among likely voters is 4.1 percentage points.

Amendments are struggling in the polls because voters have not read the ballot questions. "People really don't know what the heck these things are," Jackson said.

Other results from the poll:

• Amendment 4, which would make changes to local growth management plans subject to voter approval, was opposed by 36 percent of likely voters and supported by 33 percent. But the amendment also has the highest portion of undecided voters: 32 percent.

• Amendment 8, which would loosen class-size caps voters approved in 2002, is favored by 43 percent of likely voters, with 40 opposed and 17 percent undecided. The proposal evenly splits Republicans (44-44) and Democrats (42-42), but independent voters oppose it, 46 percent to 32.

Karen Reed, a 55-year-old independent voter in Orange County, said students benefit from smaller classes.

"You get a slow learner like me, for instance, you die in that (larger) class," Reed said. "They don't need to go any higher than what it is now. These kids don't learn. They just go to school."

Clark warned the numbers might shift as the campaigns increase their advertising budgets in the final days before the Nov. 2 election.

"The spending is often done at the last minute," Clark said. "These campaigns ... spend furiously in the few weeks before the election."

The citizens group that put Amendments 5 and 6 on the ballot, Fair Districts for Florida, has amassed a war chest of nearly $7 million, show campaign finance reports filed Friday. Most of the money has come in six-figure checks from liberal special interests including teachers unions, trial attorneys and America Votes, a get-out-the-vote group largely financed by wealthy businessman George Soros.

Opposing the amendments is the group Protect Your Vote, which raised $1.1 million from conservative groups, including a $750,000 check from the Republican Party of Florida on Oct. 7.

The richest campaign, according to recent finance reports, is the $10.5 million collected by the group Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy, which hopes to defeat Amendment 4.

The Florida Association of Realtors has spent $4.3 million, with Pulte Homes, Lennar Homes and KB Homes combining to spend another $1.2 million, to defeat the measure that would make changes to local growth management plans subject to voter approval.

Florida Hometown Democracy, which collected voter signatures to put Amendment 4 on the ballot, has raised $2.2 million for its cause, including $200,000 from NetQuote insurance co-founder Christopher Findlater of Miami Beach. Findlater has created his own political group, known as the Hometown Democracy Fund, which he recently gave $2 million.

The group Vote No on 8 has raised $1.2 million, including $1 million from America's Families First, a liberal fundraising group based in Washington, D.C.

The advertising campaign in support of Amendment 8 is funded by a political committee known as Protect Our Constitution, run by Florida Chamber of Commerce president Mark Wilson.

The Times/Herald/Bay News 9 poll only examined these four ballot proposals. Also headed to a vote are amendments to end a state program that gives public money to candidates who agree to limit campaign spending and another to extend a homestead exemption to veterans. State lawmakers also placed a nonbinding referendum on the ballot that encourages voters to support a balanced-budget amendment for the U.S. Constitution.

Times/Herald staff writers Sergio Bustos and Becky Bowers contributed to this story.

The telephone survey of 801 registered voters, including 577 likely voters, was conducted Oct. 15-19 for the St. Petersburg Times, Miami Herald, Bay News 9 and Central Florida News 13. The poll was done by Ipsos Public Affairs, a Washington, D.C.-based independent, nonpartisan research company. The margin of error among likely voters is 4.1 percentage points and the margin of error among the larger sample of registered voters is 3.5 percentage points.

Voters not backing proposed amendments, Times/Herald Bay News 9 poll shows 10/24/10 [Last modified: Monday, October 25, 2010 7:44am]
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