| Birmingham -- UAB professor Larry Powell is the poll guy. When media outlets want to do a political poll more often than not they tap Powell for the job and ,boy, has he been busy these past few months!
"Typically in politics the odd number years are off years, where youre supposed to it back and relax and get ready for the next one. Weve gone immediately into a major political campaign just because of this tax situation."
Powells done polls for the Birmingham News, Fox 6, television stations in Montgomery and Huntsville. His latest poll, conducted Tuesday though Thursday of last week, showed the plan was losing support among blacks and white, rich and poor, men and women, young and old, republicans and Democrats. Pretty much across the board. But how accurate are these polls?
"You need to realize to start off with, no matter how good you are youre supposed to be wrong one out of every 20 times."
Remember the Alabama lottery? Early polls had it winning by six percent. And the Riley-Siegelman race. Some polls put Rileys lead at as much as ten points, but it ended up being a nail biter. Powell the predictive power of the poll depends on a lot of things, including the poll sample.
"We dont divide the state equally up by population. Some areas will turn out heavier than others. But we also take into consideration such demographic variables as age, income, gender and ethnic background."
Women vote more frequently than men. Older people are more likely to vote than younger people. And black turnout in Alabama varies from 15 to 25 percent of the total vote. In July a poll suggested that 39 percent of black voters were squarely against the tax and accountability package but in last weeks poll just slightly under a quarter identified themselves as no votes meaning the church-based, grassroots effort to convince black voters may be paying off for the Riley camp. But what about undecided voters?
"well, if youve got a poll that shows 40% for candidate A, 40% for candidate B, and then 20% undecided. There is a tendency for the average person to say, well the undecided voters are probably going to split 50-50 just like the others. That will not occur. For whatever reason, the undecided voters tend to split at least two-to-one for one particular person."
Powell says in referendum like todays vote on Amendment One undecided voters vote no 80 to 90 percent of the time. Its just easier to vote against change if youre not sure you want it. It would seem, then, that the opponents of Amendment One have it all sewn up. But not so fast, says University of Alabama Birmingham political scientist Christopher Stream.
"Because the polls are a representative sample of Alabama, were getting a large group of cynical Alabamians who probably are not going to vote anyway. //If we were to just go poll, say college graduates making 50-thousand-dollars a year and up, wed probably see a more accurate picture of what it could look like."
In fact, Stream says the only chance Riley has of success is if theres low voter turn-out if low-income, under-educated alabamians stay at home.
"Drive around the neighborhoods and where do you see the yes signs? You see them in mountain brook and Vestavia and hoover and Homewood ... but you dont see signs in irondale and you dont see signs in woodlawn and you dont see signs in some of the poorer areas of Alabama on voting yes. I think Riley really needs those folks to stay home!"
The possibility that anti-tax voters might stay home does worry Bob Gambacurta a spokesman for the Tax Accountability Coalition, which organized to fight Amendment One.
"The polls we see now showing us 20 points ahead they make you feel good, but they make you feel bad too because we say to ourselves, well, we hope our supporters dont see this and say oh, I dont need to go to the polls on election day everybody I know is gonna vote against this tax so Ive got something else Ive got to do that day, Ill just go do it."
Its a concern, but Pollster Larry Powell says Gambacurta shouldnt worry too much.
Anti-tax voters tend to be heavier and stronger voters than pro-tax voters.
That worries Gary Youngblood of the Alabama Partnership for Progress.
"If you break those public opinion polls down, especially by per capita income, youll find that where we are losing this battle, is in the low-income families in the low income neighborhoods and thats b/c they are listening to talk radio and theyre hearing tax increase, not tax decrease. // Ill tell you what will be heartbreaking for me and for us to lose it on the vote of the people that will plan would help the most!"
Public opinion polls aside, there is one thing that both sides of this contentious tax debate can agree on...
Youngblood: "Its one thing to convince people to vote yes, or even to vote no, but youve got to get them to the polls."
Gambacurta: "Im kind of old fashioned so I say the only poll that counts is the one (on September 9th)..."
~Tanya Ott, September 9, 2003