Voters aren’t keen on Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to privatize the state’s liquor stores, according to a poll commissioned by the labor union most vocally opposed to the proposal. The survey was conducted by a Republican pollster.
47% oppose the plan and 41% support it. It’s the first publicly released survey to show privatization at a net negative. Its results are a contrast from overall attitudes about privatization; respondents said they favored privatizing government services 40% to 38%.
GOP firm Harper Polling surveyed 500 likely Pa. voters via interactive voice response from April 8-10. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.38%.
Update: several readers emailed me and noted in the comments below that partners with Long, Nyquist & Associates – which represents UFCW 1776 – are also partners in Harper Polling. Add that grain of salt to the one described below.
The results paint a bleaker picture for privatization than did a recent survey commissioned by the the conservative Commonwealth Foundation which found 61% support for it.
The latest independent poll on the issue, from Franklin & Marshall in February, showed 53% of voters supported privatization while 34% opposed it.
In the Harper poll released by UFCW, 60% said the issue shouldn’t be a priority for officials in Harrisburg. Ranked among other issues, liquor placed last (9%) among fixing the economy (41%), funding education (38%), and transportation (12%).
In the memo, pollster Brock McCleary said the intensity of opposition surpassed that of supporters.
“It’s the difference between the guy who wouldn’t mind having another liquor store in his neighborhood and the guy who’s going to lose his job if they privatize the store where he works,” he wrote.
UFCW President Wendell Young IV agrees.
“What this poll shows is very low intensity from the voters on this,” he said.
He said he initially commissioned the poll to be internal, but decided to release it on seeing the numbers.
“I needed a credible poll, a poll that wouldn’t just tell me what I wanted to hear,” he said. “This is a Republican firm, the mostly work for Republicans, they’re gonna give me a good, hard, conservative look.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers local 1776 labor union represents the employees of the current wine and spirits stores. The Governor’s plan would provide incentives for private spirits sellers who hire them, but critics like UFCW 1776 say that the proposal would exchange well-paying union jobs for minimum wage clerk positions.
The poll also tested some of the negative messaging against liquor privatization. A majority of respondents said they would be less likely to support Corbett’s plan if it meant easier access to booze for teenagers, lead to job losses, reduce revenue for the state, or cause booze to increase in price.
“The Governor, Lt. Governor and others like to say that 70%, 80% of people support this. But that’s not true,” said Young. “It comes in cycles. The public perception of this issue is one way, but when it comes to the clear light of testimony,” public support tends to drop, he said.
Just as with internal polls commissioned by campaigns, the results of internal polls from advocacy groups should be taken with a grain of salt. Typically, the group commissioning a poll has final say over the questions asked and the language therein.
In this case, the pollster asked about “Governor Corbett’s plan.” Given the Governor’s low approval ratings, it’s likely attaching his name to the question brought down its numbers.
Not to mention, the bill passed by the state House and has noteworthy differences from the plan Corbett proposed – as will likely be the case in the state Senate should the measure reach a vote there.
“It might have affected it by a few points,” Young conceded, “but this is nowhere near the 70, 80 points you hear,” from supporters.
Corbett has taken as prominent a role on the liquor issue as any during his tenure so far.
51% of respondents identified as Democrats and 39% as Republicans. 15% identified as liberal versus very conservative (19%), somewhat conservative (27%) and moderate (35%).
Here’s the poll questions and topline results: