Published Wednesday, July 25, 2012
A survey suggests the transportation-tax referendum has a reasonable change to pass in four of the state’s 12 regions if campaign messages reach enough voters, according to a memo to supporters.
The memo, obtained by Morris News Service late Friday, shows voters in the Central Savannah River Area that centers on Augusta were the most supportive, followed by those in the Middle Georgia region around Macon and the Southwest region around Albany. The Southern Georgia region that includes Tifton and Valdosta was also bullish.
Least open to the tax were the Mountains region around Gainesville, Northwest around Rome and Three Rivers that includes Newnan, LaGrange and Carrollton.
While the campaign supporting the tax outside of Atlanta, called Connect Georgia, declined to discuss the memo or the poll it was based on, spokeswoman Cindy Miller did say that negative news coverage in Atlanta doesn’t reflect feelings in other parts of Georgia.
“The support around the state does not surprise us at all,” she said.
Connect Georgia polled 300 likely primary voters in seven of the districts between June 13-18. They were asked their view of the tax, and then they heard several messages in support of it and were asked again what they thought.
A majority of those surveyed in the Central Savannah area (59 percent), Middle Georgia (51 percent) and Southwest (51) regions were for it before even hearing the sales pitch. After the spiel, 57 percent in the Southern also warmed up to it.
The test messages boosted support by 6-8 percentage points.
The punch of the message pushed up responses to a bare majority of 51 percent in the Northeast and 50 percent in the Coastal regions.
Those living in the Mountains region started with just 40 percent support, so even after hearing the magic phrases only 46 percent were persuaded.
“As a general rule, we like to see referendum elections polling well over 50 percent heading into election day,” wrote the unnamed authors of the memo. “The majority of undecided voters will most likely vote no, so it is essential that we are able to communicate effectively to as many voters as possible before election day.”
They distributed the memo June 26 in hopes it would convince supporters to pitch in for a multimedia campaign after they saw the cause offered some promise. As they bluntly note, they didn’t have the necessary funds at the time.
Miller said in the four weeks since, money has begun to flow. Organizers spent it where it was raised instead of concentrating where they have the best prospects.
“Our challenge in the opportunities is we have more opportunities to win than we have resources to win,” she said.
Another challenge is turnout. A chart with the memo shows its best chances are in regions with more Democrats and blacks.
Unfortunately for supporters, blacks generally are a smaller share of turnout in primaries than they are in general elections. At the same time, a dearth of Democratic candidates means few primaries for that party. Democrats can vote in Republican primaries if they don’t simply stay home.
One argument Miller said is striking a chord is that the tax will result in jobs for each region that passes it. Using a ratio of jobs to spending developed by the Federal Highway Administration, the campaign figured the estimated taxes generated over the 10 year life of the tax would yield 43,000 jobs in the Coastal region, 23,000 in CSRA and 26,600 in the Northeast.
“When you’re in the Coastal Region and you’re talking about getting to and from the port, that resonates well,” Miller said.
Another selling point capitalizes on the Two Georgias and distrust for Atlanta. The projects benefiting from the tax are in the local region and were picked by local officials.
That may be backfiring in regions blanketed by Atlanta’s media market, like Three Rivers and Northeast. There is also a vibrant, organized opposition in Metro Atlanta which isn’t as robust farther from the capital.
Still, an informal survey of political reporters around the state showed as much doubt about passage in Athens, Augusta, Brunswick and Savannah as in Atlanta. A few predicted it might pass in another area, but all said it was doomed in the regions they personally cover.
Of course, a roll call of reporters is certainly not scientific, and a month-old poll isn’t going to be valid either just days before the votes are counted.
However, the Connect Georgia survey does show there is a possibility that a well-executed campaign could lead to success in a few parts of the state.
Miller said the organization is actively seeking donations until the eve of the election. There’s still time to get out new mailers, and broadcast time or phone calls can be ramped up the moment each additional contribution comes in.