So what did the latest round of polling show on the appetite of Washington voters for a tax hike? The results were lousy enough for the Washington State Hospital Association to temporarily abandon plans to fund a referendum campaign. The Association is now reconsidering.
I got my hands on a summary of the poll that was given to the Senate Democratic Caucus. It’s not the complete poll, and I don’t have a sample size or margin of error; however I believe 800 likely voters were polled. The poll was taken last week — right when people were filing their taxes and there were anti-tax demonstrations all over the country, including at the State Capitol in Olympia. The health care groups who paid for the poll say it was the "worst possible" week to be asking voters their mood on taxes.
That said, here are some key results. The pollsters asked about both a temporary three-tenths-of-one-percent sales tax increase (which has been introduced by State Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle) and an income tax on people making more than $250,000 a year (an idea Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, has floated). The sales tax garnered better than 50 percent support if it included a tax rebate for working families and if the money raised was used to support hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care programs. Both elements are part of Rep. Pettigrew's proposal. But as the poll summary notes, support is "soft" with just better than 20 percent of voters "strongly" supporting the proposal.
The income tax proposal polled under 50 percent even if the money was dedicated to education and health care.
Neither the sales tax nor income tax polled over 50 percent in "targeted" legislative districts. I would interpret targeted to mean competitive swing districts where incumbent lawmakers would take a sizeable risk in voting for putting a tax on the ballot — even one that goes to voters for their up or down approval.
My understanding is that the potential backers of a tax referendum wanted to see 60 percent support for the sales tax. They know once an opposition campaign revs up chances are they will lose voter support, not gain it. It’s hard to tell from the bar graphs on the summary I have, but it looks like the three-tenths sales tax idea got 54 to 55 percent support. Pollsters also found arguments against a sales tax (and the boost would make Washington’s sales tax among highest in the nation) were more compelling to voters than arguments for a tax hike (to save health care).
Probably one thing that's giving supporters of a tax measure some hope is that 10 percent of "no" voters on the sales tax are soft opponents — meaning they could potentially be persuaded if shown the impact of the cuts to programs without the tax.
Finally, an unrelated but interesting poll result: Gov. Chris Gregoire’s approval rating is 44 percent as compared to 57 percent for President Obama. The poll says Gregoire fares worst among independent women with only a 32 percent approval rating.
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