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Voters want to vote (for a downtown arena)

“Players wanna play, Ballers wanna ball, Rollers wanna roll …” and voters want to vote.

As the Field Poll (California’s long running, highly reputable independent polling service) said of Californians, “Voters also think that the voting public rather than their elected representatives ‘can be trusted more often to do what is right on important government issues’ (63% to 24%) and ‘are better suited to decide upon large-scale government programs and projects’ (57% to 33%).”

In this context, it should come as no surprise that a new poll released by Tab Communications that showed nearly 80% of Sacramento voters would like to vote on the arena plan. (Tab Communications is a conservative political consulting firm.) Tab Berg, Its principle was drawn into a small twitter war with the Mayor’s spokesman, Steve Maviglio over Tab’s perceived biases. Or, as Maviglio put it, “Note @ryan_lillis @dakasler the poll is promoted by pro-referendum consultant @tabberg #notexactlyGallup.” Berg previously editorialized in the Bee in favor of a referendum and lists one of his clients as ‘Stop the Arena Tax’, so it is likely fair to assume he has a point of view, which he does not dispute, “stevenmaviglio @Ryan_Lillis @dakasler Its been fully disclosed every time – does having an opinion preclude you from being objective.”

What I find more interesting is that a small plurality, although within the polls rather large margin of error, appear to support the arena. Previous private polls that I have been privy to showed voters narrowly opposing spending public funds for such a development. This may be a real change, driven by hometown pride swollen by recent boosterism. It might be due to the real and immediate threat posed by Seattle. It also might just be an issue of a poll’s margin of error obscuring its meaning.

It is curious that a significant portion of the populace, at least 25% of Sacramentans, want to hold a referendum to potentially overturn a choice they support (The 78.3% of respondents who support a referendum minus 53% who either oppose an arena or did not provide an opinion). I would really love to ask some follow-up questions of the voters who said:

Q1: Do you support the arena …?
A1: Yes, I support the arena.
Q2: Should we have a referendum to overturn the decision to build the arena?
A2: Yes, I think we should have a referendum.
Q3: Do you really believe this or are you just a very pleasant person and like answering “Yes” to everything? (I acknowledge the wording of this question could lead to a confusing response)

Unfortunately, as I understand it, this was a very short poll, without additional follow-up questions, so nothing further can really be divined, beyond the simple fact that voters want to vote, just like ballers want to ball and players want to play. It is the simple order of things.

Is it right or wrong? That is a complicated philosophical question, which gets to the heart of democratic theory. On one hand, in a democracy, voters are supposed to decide. On the other hand, as has played out dramatically in California through the initiative system, too much democracy can be a problem.

As voters we do our best, but we have a limited bandwidth to be adequately informed about complicated policy issues and limited experience to make decisions in the wider policy and budgetary context. In short, voters are good at deciding issues of principle and basic direction. We are not good at making nuanced policy decisions or long term fiscal planning. This is an issue that could fall within either category, depending on how you look at it.

If it is a simple question of whether we should make supporting the Kings a financial priority (As UOP Professor Jeff Michael put it, ‘how much do we like art versus sports’); that is exactly the kind of question voters are good at answering.

If it is a more complex question of whether it is a worthwhile economic development project whose benefits outweigh its costs (both tangible and opportunity costs) while fitting into our current and future fiscal context; that is a question that voters will find more challenging. In this case, the public debate would likely devolve either into a referendum on the Kings or taxation in principle, rather than the relative benefits of this policy. It may be worth noting, as you would probably expect, the poll’s author disagrees with me on this concept.

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