A new poll on a possible Kern County library tax paints a grim picture of the measure’s ballot chances, but supporters still say their goal is reachable.
The poll, commissioned by the county, found only 60 percent support from voters educated about the tax, shy of the 66.7 percent needed to pass.
The margin of error was 5 percent, meaning actual results could be five points higher or lower.
County supervisors are scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to place the one-eighth cent tax on the June 7 ballot. Three of the five supervisors have indicated they will vote yes.
Roughly 400 high-propensity primary election voters responded to pollster Kent Price’s questions. They were largely Republican, conservative, women and without a college degree.
They were generally happy with their home in Kern County and the state of libraries. But they weren’t fond of taxes.
A solid majority, 55.1 percent, said they would support a library tax without blinking. But that was well below the two-thirds majority needed to pass.
Support improved, and the 38.2 percent of respondents who were initially in strong opposition to the tax weakened to only 25.1 percent, after people heard what the extra $15 million in library funds would do.
They were swayed by news library hours could improve, branches could be open most of the week, programs for children and teens could be expanded, and more computer laptops and technology services could be available if the tax passed.
But the new poll results offered up a bleaker picture of the library tax’s chances than that of a nine-month public input process Kern County officials undertook in early 2015. A poll, survey and exhaustive series of public meetings delivered reports of robust support to supervisors.
Jason Wiebe, the County Administrative Office staffer who shepherded the library debate through the public input process, said he sees the new poll data as consistent with the rosier view provided by frequent library users and supporters.
The new information is, he said, “the other side that we didn’t see at the community meetings. I see it consistent — just not as strong.”
Kent Price, the retired Cal State Bakersfield political science professor who conducted the poll, said passing a two-thirds tax is always a challenge in Kern County. Twenty-five percent of voters will say “no” to any tax, he said.
But he saw some positives in the numbers.
“The library enjoys a great deal of credibility in the community,” Price said. “My experience is when the institution asking for the money is liked,” there is a better chance of the tax passing.
Miranda Lomeli-O’Reilly, co-founder of pro-library group Advocates for Library Enhancement, said their effort to pass a library tax is undaunted.
“It is an uphill battle but it’s not impossible,” she said. “I would say that starting out with above 60 percent and having a large number of undecided voters” is a good sign.
And, she said, it was clear that voters could be convinced to support the tax for a good cause.
“As people were more educated on the issue, the support went up and up and up,” she said.
And, she said, the poll represents the opinion of the tax’s biggest opponent group. Other voters are much more supportive. The key will be getting them to vote. That’s what the ALE group plans to do.
“It will be imperative that our frequent users come out in June and cast a ballot in support of the libaries,” she said. “We know that when people hear the truth they want to be supportive and they want to get involved with us and they want to vote yes.”
Price said passing the tax, even if there is no campaign against it, won’t be easy.
“This is not a slam dunk in any way. This is going to take a lot of work and a lot of organization,” he said. “That’s the task of the campaign, to identify yes votes and get them out.”
Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Nick Ortiz said if the polling is representative of the people who will vote June 7, library tax supporters have reason to be concerned.
Ortiz said that conventional campaign wisdom warns initiative backers that they need to begin their campaign with more support than is needed to get a yes vote.
“The rule of thumb is generally that, through a campaign, you bleed support. It’s not always correct but if I was going to run a campaign that was at 60 percent (support), and I need another six percent, I would be concerned,” he said.
The chamber supports exploring new models and efforts to improve Kern County libraries, Ortiz said. But they are also looking at the need for a sales tax to support road construction in Kern County.
And the library tax would give that effort some competition.
“Should it pass it complicates — but doesn’t make impossible — a self-help tax for transportation,” Ortiz said.