Poll shows Hillsborough voters not influenced by Greenlight loss

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In the wake of the electoral trashing that Greenlight Pinellas took on election day last month, local leaders in Hillsborough County pushing for a transit referendum in 2016 have spoken in cautionary tones.

“I think the stark reality is, and I think it will become even starker, is that it’s an uphill struggle,” admitted Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn a week after the drubbing took place in Pinellas.

But a poll taken of Hillsborough County residents in the immediate aftermath of the Greenlight loss shows that it may not be as bad as it looks — though it still shows a transit tax measure losing if the vote were to take place today.

By a 48-46 percent margin, Hillsborough County residents say they oppose a sales tax for transit and rail system, with six percent undecided. The 2010 transit tax in Hillsborough County that would have raised the sales tax by one-cent failed by a 58-42 percent margin.

“At this time, the notion of a sales tax for transit and a rail system is highly polarizing, with nearly identical levels of support and opposition,” reads the report, authored by Paul M. Fallon with Florida Opinion Research. “The sub-group analysis indicates that, in addition to the stark differences among partisans, there is a sizeable gender gap that currently exists, with women being much more supportive then men. Time appears to have had little impact on voting preferences, as those who voted in 2010 remain entrenched in their views.”

After Greenlight’s loss (by a 62-38 percent, four points worse than Hillsborough’s 2010 vote), some observers have said that the Tampa Bay area region is saying loud and clear that they don’t want a light-rail system, the biggest component in both transit measures. But when asked in the survey if a 2016 referendum omitted light rail and concentrated solely on bus service, streets and roads, there was only four percent who said it would make them more favorable to the measure, with the vast majority — 41 percent — saying it would make no difference. 30 percent said it would make them more likely to vote for the tax, and 26 percent said it would make them less favorable to the tax.

“Trying to improve the prospects of passage by removing the rail component from the sales tax request may backfire,” writes Fallon. “While some of the 2010 naysayers could be persuaded to vote for it as a result, the cost comes at a loss of support among some of those voters who backed it in 2010. This could result in a zero-sum gain scenario that does not substantially improve its appeal.”

Florida Opinion Research polling also shows that despite the considerable news media attention showered on the Greenlight Pinellas campaign throughout this year, both pro and con, it seems to have had little effect on Hillsborough voters.

An overwhelming 79 percent said the Greenlight Pinellas vote would have no impact on how they opted to vote on a transit tax in 2016. 10 percent said the loss in Pinellas would make them more likely to support a transit tax in Hillsborough County, and 9 percent said it would make them less likely.

A survey taken by the Tampa Bay Partnership in the immediate aftermath of the election last month showed that more than 90 percent of the voters rejected the Greenlight initiative did so because of the sales tax increase.

The Florida Opinion Research poll interviewed 300 randomly selected registered voters in Hillsborough County who had valid residential or cellular telephone numbers and histories of voting in recent general elections or were new registrants. The interviews took place between November 5-7 of this year, and has a sampling error +/- 5.65 percent.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.