Observations: OSN poll, New Urbanism, and homeless in L.A.

Changing public opinion with more ‘information.’ Last week, the Libertas Institute publicized a poll purporting to show that tax increases under the Our Schools Now ballot proposal “stand to fail when voters learn about their impact.”

The poll showed 50-44 percent support for the initiative, but Libertas President Connor Boyack said support “falls apart when voters realize the significant impact the two tax increases would have on their family budget.”

That claim deserves a closer look. It is a legitimate survey research technique to ask a support/oppose question on an issue and then provide the respondent with additional information before asking the question again to see if the additional information changed opinion.

But it is totally misleading to provide arguments on only one side of the issue and then ask the question again. If the survey focuses only on how much the tax increase will cost families, certainly, support will erode.

But suppose the pollster states, “This ballot measure would increase teacher salaries by $10,000 each, provide your neighborhood school with an additional $1 million to improve your child’s education, and the money will be controlled and spent at the local level, and your children’s educational achievement will improve, and Utah’s economy will benefit with young people prepared for the jobs of the future, and they will make much more money over their lifetime, etc., etc.”

And then when the pollster asks the original question again, certainly support is going to increase. A legitimate poll provides the arguments that will actually be used in a campaign on each side of the issue to see if support increases or erodes.

Without knowing exactly what “information” was presented to sway opinion, Utahns should be wary of the results.  When both sides are fairly presented, I’m confident Utah voters will want to ensure a bright future for their children and grandchildren by supporting the initiative.

New Urbanism and Mayor McAdams. I recently attended the Wasatch Front Regional Council 2050 conference where New Urbanism was much discussed. Scholars Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak, co-authors of “The new localism: How cities can thrive in the age of populism,” published by the Brookings Institution, were luncheon speakers, and were questioned by Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.

The New Urbanism movement is a real phenomenon. Many cities and counties across the country are prospering, and metropolitan areas are the most dynamic economic zones across the world. Local leaders are collaborating and solving problems, while the federal government suffers dysfunction and gridlock.

McAdams made a number of comments about the sorry state of the federal government and the vibrancy of local governments and metro areas.

Which raises the question: Why in the world does McAdams want to become one of 535 frustrated members of Congress who face nasty partisanship and non-stop political games instead of staying in Salt Lake County where the action is, where he can have a real impact, solve problems and make good things happen?

Homeless in L.A. A recent front page lead story in the Los Angeles Times laments that Los Angeles County has 58,000 homeless people (wow!), some of them hanging out on the City Hall lawn. The number of homeless people surged from 32,000 in last six years, up 75 percent. The county has 222 homeless encampments, including 50 with 30 or more people living in them. Dozens of different programs have been tried, without long-term success.

Officials are trying to turn things around with a focus on housing. County voters approved a $4.6 billion tax increase to build housing. Some 1,000 additional employees have been hired to help with all the homeless services.

The L.A. Times article includes a chart showing the percentage of homeless people sheltered and the number of beds available per homeless person for regions across the country. Salt Lake City is at the top of the number of people sheltered and the number of beds available, while Los Angeles is at the bottom. 

Wasatch Front homeless problems are small compared to the Los Angeles area. But we need to learn from their mistakes. The right balance between compassion and tough love is needed.