Polling Suggests New Approach for Democrats and Social Services

By Josh Feit October 13, 2011

I'm not too interested in the fact the lastest polling for I-1163, the Service Employee International Union's initiative to fund training for state home health care workers, shows the measure sailing through with 80 percent support.

After all, the original measure passed in 2008 with 72 percent approval. (The union is filing it again because the legislature hasn't funded it.)

But there is something noteworthy about the numbers: Even when voters are bombarded with negative messaging—the inflated price tag that's being used by the opposition campaign to derail the health care measure and depressing context about the state's $2 billion deficit—I-1163 remains comfy at 70 percent approval.

These numbers show that state senate majority leader Sen. Lisa Brown (D-3, Spokane) is on to something when she says Democrats have to change their approach to taxes.

In a PubliCola interview last summer, Brown suggested that the only way Democrats could win on the revenue question in Washington State (a state where blue voters don't like taxes) was to pass taxes that are specifically tied to popular programs; fees, essentially.

Here's what Sen. Brown told us back in July in a post-legislative-session debrief after the Democrats, even in the face of a crippling $5 billion shortfall, shied away from raising taxes:
Brown: “Taxes to support government” gets a “No.” Specific revenue sources that people know what they mean to them, to support specific things that they believe in, often gets a “Yes.” A tenth-of-a-cent sales tax in Spokane County—not the city, the county—passed for mental health. Our conservation property tax passed and was renewed in Spokane County. The specific revenue source, the specific thing you’re going to spend the money on, you’ve got to make a really good case. The public needs to believe that there’s not other money being wasted somewhere. It’s part of our culture, and it’s part of talk radio culture, to hold up something that somebody spent money on and it seems like a waste. That’s a constant challenge.

Overwhelming voter support for funding basic social services like health care in the face of yet another budget crisis demonstrates that Brown has an accurate sense of how Democrats who are interested in funding social programs may need to operate in the future—pitching revenues one program at a time.
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