Public opinion

Bill Mueller, CEO of Valley Vision, says a series of polls will help officials know what residents really believe and want.

Bill Mueller, CEO of Valley Vision, says a series of polls will help officials know what residents really believe and want.

Photo courtesy of Valley Vision

CEO of Valley Vision

For policy nerds like me, Valley Vision’s to-do list is full of fascinating information about the Sacramento region: the ag economy, inclusive economic development, clean air, health care and much more.

But one initiative is especially significant to our local democracy—and to Sacramento’s future.

Valley Vision is in the middle of a series of five polls designed to find out what residents really believe on some of the region’s most pressing issues. And it wants the results to guide elected officials to better informed decisions.

“We want to put the public back in public policy,” says Bill Mueller, the nonprofit’s CEO.

The polls started in 2017. The first focused on civic amenities and found that parks are overwhelmingly the most important to residents.

The second revolved around transportation. One key finding: While 69 percent drive alone all or most of the time, they’re willing to try alternatives to get around town. There are plenty of options, with Uber and Lyft, shared bicycles and electric cars and electric scooters.

The third, released late last year, was a livability index. While it found that 78 percent are happy with their quality of life and 62 percent are proud of their community, they worry about homelessness and their personal safety.

This survey also revealed a deep divide: 51 percent (including renters and those younger than 35) want to speed up on building new housing, but 49 percent (homeowners and those 35 and older) want to slow down. Valley Vision hosted a workshop in February for key players in the affordable housing debate, but the lack of consensus may mean that this issue will be resolved at the ballot box—a local rent control measure in 2020.

The fourth survey, with results due out in May, will be about the environment, including climate change, energy use, recycling and other topics.

And the fifth, out this summer, will focus on education and workforce development at a time when the Sacramento City Unified School District is dealing with a potential strike by teachers and a takeover by the state.

Besides trying to pick timely issues, Valley Vision is seeking the opinions of all residents, unlike many polls that only survey registered voters.

It sent out 100,000 postcards to residents. From those who responded, it then selected 2,000 to reflect the demographics of the region. About 900 are on the panel for each poll, done by the Institute for Social Research at Sacramento State. That sample size gives the results a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Mueller says that Valley Vision—which is funded by local governments, foundations and businesses—has spent more than $250,000 in grants and staff time on the surveys so far.

But he says it’s well worth it, especially when facts and truth are in danger these days.

Instead of public opinion being shaped by fake Facebook accounts and Russian trolls, our elected leaders would make decisions based on a scientifically accurate look at what their constituents want. Like I said, this is a big deal for our local democracy.