Editor’s Note: The following are the prepared remarks of NPI Vice President-Secretary Diane Jones in support of Senator Patty Kuderer’s SB 6610, which would permanently abolish Tim Eyman’s advisory votes push polls and create a task force to examine ways of gathering public input on the Legislature’s fiscal decisions. The bill was heard on February 5th, 2020 by the Washington State Senate’s State Government Committee.
Chair Hunt, Ranking Member Zeiger, and Members of the Committee:
Good morning. For the record, my name is Diane Jones. I serve as the Vice President-Secretary of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(4) strategy center based in Redmond that works to raise everyone’s quality of life through insightful research and imaginative advocacy.
I’m pleased to be here today in strong support of Senate Bill 6610. Adoption of this legislation will save millions of tax dollars over the next few years by ridding our ballots of “advisory votes”, which are really push polls that exist for the purpose of influencing Washingtonians’ views on matters of public finance.
Our ballots are not an appropriate place for propaganda or advertising. The ballot is the means through which we as a people make our decisions about who should represent us, and what laws we should have.
Fake ballot measures like the Initiative 960-mandated push polls that have appeared alongside legitimate measures since 2012 defile the ballot and confuse voters, making voting more difficult.
Last year, NPI asked Washingtonians what they thought of these push polls in two different statewide public opinion research surveys taken five months apart.
In both surveys, our pollster (Public Policy Polling) found a seventeen point margin in favor of their repeal. I’m pleased this morning to be able to share our findings with you as they make their public debut.
Because we are always genuinely curious about what our state’s voting public actually thinks about an issue, we had to come up with a question that would be as neutrally worded as possible, and not follow the bad example set by Eyman’s push polls, which by design can only yield garbage data.
That proved to be challenging.
How do you objectively describe what are pieces of propaganda?
We eventually came up with an elegant solution, which was to pit Tim Eyman’s wording and arguments in favor of the push polls against our own. That gave us a neutrally worded question capable of eliciting credible and usable data.
This was our question wording:
QUESTION: The Washington State Legislature is considering legislation that would abolish the non-binding statewide advisory votes that are triggered whenever a bill is passed that increases state revenue. Proponents of advisory votes say they allow voters to vote on tax increases and transform the voter’s pamphlet into a tax increase report card, enabling voters to find out what Olympia is doing to them. Opponents say that advisory votes are actually costly push polls designed to confuse the public, which ought to be eliminated to save valuable tax dollars and prevent legitimate measures and candidate elections from being pushed to the back of the ballot. Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose abolishing non-binding advisory votes?
And here are the responses we received:
May of 2019
- Support: 47%
- Strongly: 19%
- Somewhat: 28%
- Oppose: 30%
- Somewhat: 16%
- Strongly: 14%
- Not Sure: 23%
October of 2019
- Support: 43%
- Strongly: 21%
- Somewhat: 22%
- Oppose: 26%
- Somewhat: 14%
- Strongly: 12%
- Not Sure: 31%
Both surveys posed the exact same question, with no variations in wording.
In our first survey, conducted in May of 2019 with eight hundred and eighty-six likely voters participating, 47% of respondents expressed support for abolishing “advisory votes”, while 30% expressed opposition. 23% said they were not sure.
In our second survey, conducted in October of 2019 with nine hundred likely voters participating, 43% of respondents expressed support for abolishing advisory votes, while 26% expressed opposition. 31% said they were not sure.
In both surveys, the gap favoring repeal was exactly the same: seventeen points.
The major difference between the two surveys was the number who said they were not sure. The high number of “not sure” responses we saw (23% in May of 2019, 31% in October of 2019) is understandable, considering that there is a lot of confusion out there about what “advisory votes” are.
Both surveys were conducted by Public Policy Polling and have a margin of error of +/- 3.3% at the 95% confidence interval. And both surveys used a blended methodology, with some respondents participating by landline and cellphone only voters participating via online panel or text message.
Most voters who have an opinion favor repeal… as do we. Push polls are, by design, intended to influence how people think instead of taking a snapshot of public opinion. That is why “advisory votes” must be repealed. They cannot be fixed. But having a conversation about we ascertain data we can use about decisions that are made here in our statehouse would be worthwhile.
Last year, this committee gave Senate Bill 5224, a similar bill, a bipartisan, unanimous do-pass recommendation — and then followed that up a few days later by providing seven votes for the bill on the floor of the Senate.
That was one of our favorite moments of the 2019 session. It showed that Democrats and Republicans in this chamber could come together to protect the sanctity of our ballot and save tax dollars. We hope you’ll go for two for two this year and give Senate Bill 6610 a ringing “do pass” recommendation.