Sacramento mayor’s hidden poll is no evidence of support for proposal

Last week Kevin Johnson’s re-election

campaign shopped around results from a new poll that shows very high support for the mayor, and for the latest rehash of his strong-mayor plan.

At least, that’s what they say the poll says.

According to a memo sent to media outlets, 60 percent of likely Sacramento voters polled (about 500 people) generally favored the too-cutely named “Checks and Balances” package (Bites is calling it Strong Mayor III, Revenge of Strong Mayor).

Most of the individual elements of the strong-mayor plan scored well too, generally in the mid- to high 60s.

These include things like giving the mayor the power to hire and fire the city manager, letting the mayor skip council meetings (Bites suspects this is what it’s really all about) and making the mayor the city’s “chief executive.”

That’s all much stronger support than Bites would have imagined, given how dumb and dangerous the plan is.

But here’s the problem with the poll: The mayor won’t show it to us


Bites talked to the pollster Paul Maslin on the phone, and he was fine with releasing the poll if his client said it was ok.

But his client, the Kevin Johnson re-election campaign, has refused to release the actual poll questions to the press, or even to give a reason for withholding them.

Out of curiosity, Bites asked Maslin if the poll respondents were given both positive and negative statements about each element of the plan, then asked their opinion.

Maslin said “no.”

“There’s no way in a poll like this that you can pro and con each measure, you’d be on the phone for an hour,” he explained.

Maslin did say that arguments for and against the whole strong-mayor package were made at the end of the survey and overall the reforms still got more than 60 percent approval.

Also, he said descriptions of the elements of the plan were completely neutral. “There were no buzzwords, no positives, no negatives. We didn’t try to stack the deck here,” Maslin said.

OK, but consider this. If you ask the average Sacramento voter,

“Shouldn’t the mayor introduce a budget for the city,” they might reflexively say “sure.”

But ask them if the city charter should be rewritten to concentrate power in the mayor’s office, and you’ll likely get a different answer. Both ways of asking the question are technically accurate, but each gives a different level of information about this plan.

In fact, when these poll respondents were asked if they approved of increasing the number of council districts from 8 to 9, they said no not really, giving it only 37 percent approval.

Bites is just guessing here, but there’s probably no way to ask that question without suggesting that it would be a big change in city government. And voters are obviously a little nervous about it.

So, why did the other reforms get such high marks? Bites suspects it’s because the pollster didn’t let on just how much they would change the balance of power at City Hall.

But again we don’t know for sure because the mayor won’t release the thing.

Remember a few weeks back, when council member Sandy Sheedy took so much heat for the poll she commissioned showing Sacramentans wanted a vote on subsidizing a new Kings arena?

The mayor’s supporters attacked that poll and said it was flawed and a push poll—after Sheedy posted the whole thing on her website.

When the council meets in a couple of weeks, the mayor will cite this (hidden) poll as evidence that the city council should put strong mayor on the ballot. But don’t believe it, until you see it.