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Poll: Voters' economic worries doomed Hillsborough transit plan

TAMPA — A new poll confirms the culprit that many observers believe was responsible for the convincing defeat Nov. 2 of a proposed transit tax in Hillsborough County.

Namely, a lack of support for new taxes at a time when people are worrying about keeping their jobs and paying the bills.

"This election was about the economy," said Ben Kelly, a pollster with The Kenney Group, a Denver-based agency commissioned by the region's transit authority to conduct the survey. "That is the bottom line."

The Nov. 3-7 poll of 400 registered voters who said they voted on the transit tax issue found overwhelming concern about the economy among people on both sides of the issue. Among those who said they voted no, 41 percent cited opposition to or concern about paying more taxes.

More than half of those surveyed – 56 percent – said the most persuasive case made before the election for why they should vote no invoked the economy in one form or another.

The survey results were presented to Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority board members Friday. The survey was commissioned, in part, to help the authority decide whether it needs to rethink its long-range goal of building a transportation network that includes mass transit.

It follows up on a similar survey in March 2008 that guided TBARTA's 2050 plan, which calls for investment in so-called multi-modal forms of transportation, such as trains, buses and bike trails.

But the survey found that few voters cited a lack of desire or need for mass transit as a reason for opposing the 1-cent sales tax. Only about one in four said they were persuaded by claims that either trains are outdated or that the solution to future congestion is building more roads.

Of those who said they voted no, only 11 percent said they did so because they think mass transit is unnecessary.

"I think if that number were much higher, it would send us a different signal," said Bob Clifford, executive director of TBARTA.

The Kenney Group directed its phone call survey to residents throughout the county. The survey pool including roughly equal numbers of voters from each of the four Hillsborough County commission districts that represent defined areas of the county.

It carries a 4.9 percent margin of error. And while the proposal to raise the sales tax to pay for light rail, expanded bus service and new roads failed by a 16 percent margin on election day, the survey found slightly more people who said they supported it than opposed it.

Among the other findings:

• The poll found starkly partisan results, with 69 percent of Democrats saying they supported the transit tax while 29 percent of Republicans endorsed it.

• It also found some seemingly paradoxical results. About 54 percent of respondents said the argument from advocates that was most persuasive was a claim that transit investment would create 25,000 new jobs. Of those who said that, 22 percent still voted no. Meanwhile, among those who said they voted for the transit tax, only 13 percent cited a belief that it would create jobs.

• Nearly half of those who voted for the measure said they did so because Hillsborough County needs a better transportation system or to get congestion under control.

• Sixty-two percent of those surveyed said it was very or somewhat important that a planned high-speed rail line from Orlando be linked to light rail in downtown Tampa.

Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.

Poll: Voters' economic worries doomed Hillsborough transit plan 11/19/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 19, 2010 10:32am]

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