Convincing women to vote for regional transportation sales tax on July 31 will be key, pollster says

By Maria Saporta

Women will play a pivotal role in whether the regional transportation sales tax passes on July 31.

That was the message that David Hill, director of Hill Research Consultants which is doing polling for the pro-tax entities, told more than 130 women who gathered at Home Depot’s headquarters for a lunch meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

It was just a coincidence that Carol Tomé, Home Depot’s chief financial officer who is the 2012 Chair of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, had invited the group of high level women to learn more about the transportation referendum before realizing how key their votes will be on July 31.

“Women are going to be the key factor,” Hill said. In looking at voters at the July 31 primary, it is expected that 31 percent will be Democratic women; 18 percent will be Democratic men; 21 percent will be Republican women; 21 percent will be Republican men; and 9 percent will be non-partisan voters.

About 60 percent of the Democrats, both men and women, are expected to vote in favor of the tax; 50 percent of Republican women likely will support it; and only 35 percent of Republican men likely will be in the yes column.

“The way we are going to break the lock is with Republican women,” said Hill, who is primarily viewed as a Republican pollster.

Hill broke down the latest polling by saying that 26 percent of the expected voters were a “hard yes,” 16 percent were a “hard no,” leaving 57 percent potentially as swing voters.

And among swing voters, women also will be critical — specifically women between the ages of 18 and 50 represent 70 percent of the swing voters.

“They are up for grabs in this thing,” Hill said. “Younger women is a key opportunity.”

That means the campaign should be doing what it can to target that group by using warm words like “home,” to let families know that passing the transportation sales tax will reduce traffic congestion so that people will be able to spend more time at home.

Interestingly enough, Hill said that Democrats are more likely to be women. “We can not take for granted the Democratic numbers,” Hill said.

The polling also shows that “intensity” could be a key factor — voters who feel strongly one way or another would more likely go to the polls or vote by absentee ballot.

“We do see that ‘No’ voters are more likely to come out to vote,” Hill acknowledged. “Our goal is to turn out 50,000 people who don’t normally vote in primaries.”

The “Transportation Initiative Luncheon” also included a “commercial break” where two pro-tax videos were shown. One focused on how passing the referendum would give more time to residents. The other one played off the campaign theme of “Untie Atlanta” showing roads wrapped up as spaghetti with cars going every which way. In that video, there’s only a micro-second of footage of a train — obviously downplaying the amount of transit that is in the referendum.

When asked after the luncheon why the campaign has not highlighted the new investment in transit, Hill said: “People want to be assured there’s a balance.”

Of the $6.14 billion that is to collected over 10 years and that has been allocated to 157 different transportation projects, 52 percent of the investment is slated to go to transit — from light rail, streetcar, bus rapid transit and investment in MARTA’s capital budget.

Hill said that in the next months, the campaign will target specific parts of town — primarily using cable advertising.

“We have got an elaborate system to indentify those voters inclined to vote yes,” Hill said. “The beauty of this oddball day (the primaries on July 31) is that we will win if we can influence just 50,000 votes.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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