National News

Buckhorn uses poll as 'road map' for last term

Posted December 26, 2017 1:11 a.m. EST

TAMPA -- Most Tampanians in a recent poll said they would support paying more in sales taxes to pay for building a citywide rail system to ease traffic.

Most disapproved of how President Donald Trump handled the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, but liked the job Tampa police and Mayor Bob Buckhorn are doing.

Such are the key takeaways from a private poll that Buckhorn himself commissioned in late November.

The survey was done by the mayor's longtime campaign pollster, Keith Frederick of suburban Washington, D.C., who works for political, corporate and nonprofit clients all over the country. The poll interviewed 350 registered Tampa voters from Nov. 27-30 -- nearly half were reached on their cellphones -- and comes with a margin of error of plus or minus 5.3 percent.

To pay for the poll, Buckhorn used about $14,000 that had been donated to One Florida, the political action committee that he set up three years ago when he was thinking about running for governor in 2018.

Buckhorn said he's not having second thoughts about deciding not to seek the Democratic nomination for governor.

"There were no questions about any future race, any potential race, anything political or campaign-related," he said. Still, he clearly wants to know what constituents think of his time in office and is curious about the race to succeed him.

Moreover, Buckhorn said he wanted the poll as a more traditional frame of reference for the results of an unscientific Internet poll that City Hall conducted in September to gauge residents' priorities for the next couple of years.

That online poll attracted more than 2,000 respondents, not all of them Tampa residents, nearly 89 percent of whom rated improving streets and easing flooding as their top priority. Roughly tied for second place were police-community relations and transportation options, including light rail, both rated as important by nearly 75 percent of respondents.

"I wanted a more definitive road map for the next 15 months in terms of what people are thinking," said Buckhorn, who will leave the mayor's office due to term limits on April 1, 2019. The new poll "quantified what I thought anyway based on the non-scientific poll that we did."

Respondents to the One Florida poll identified traffic congestion as their top priority, followed by better paying jobs.

"One of the issues that consistently pops up (was) finding some way to accelerate street repairs," Buckhorn said. "As we go through this budget process you may see, to the extent that I can, moving more money in that direction."

Here's some of the rest of what he asked:

Transportation and taxes

Sixty-four percent of respondents said they supported increasing the sales tax to build a rail system that ran throughout Tampa as a way to address traffic congestion. Twenty-eight percent said they were opposed.

"That reinforces everything that we said, that the city would support it," Buckhorn said.

Two-thirds of Democrats and independent voters also supported the idea. Among Republicans surveyed, support was 55 percent, which, given the 5.3 percent margin of error, could put the actual level below 50 percent or above 60.

President Trump and Puerto Rico

Buckhorn asked what Tampa residents thought of the way Trump handled the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in the U.S. territory.

Not much.

Overall, 62 percent of those polled had somewhat or very negative views of the president's performance in Puerto Rico, versus 28 percent who were positive. Republicans were the exception. Those polled approved of Trump's performance 67 to 23 percent.

In contrast to the general view on Trump's response, 78 percent said they supported Buckhorn's efforts to welcome residents of Puerto Rico to Tampa. Fifteen percent opposed.

"What I wanted to figure out was, did people perceive that as a burden on the state," Buckhorn said.

Police-community relations

The poll asked respondents to respond to three questions related to police, crime and race relations:

• The job Tampa police are doing

• Feeling safe and free from the threat of crime

• Relations between the races

A total of 88 percent rated the job police are doing as very positive or somewhat positive, versus 8 percent who rated it somewhat or very negative.

Among specific demographic groups, very or somewhat positive ratings came from 82 percent of African-Americans, 90 percent of Hispanic respondents and 88 percent of Anglos.

Seventy percent of those surveyed said they felt safe and free from the threat of crime.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents had a somewhat or very positive outlook on race relations, versus 22 percent who viewed the topic negatively.

Demographically, the question on race relations broke down as such: 63 percent positive, 31 percent negative for African-Americans; 77 percent positive, 15 percent negative for Hispanics; and 68 percent positive, 22 percent negative for Anglos.

Buckhorn's job performance

When it came to preparing for Hurricane Irma and cleaning up afterwards, 45 percent rated Buckhorn's performance as excellent, 36 percent as good and 15 percent as negative.

More generally, 23 percent said he had done an excellent job as mayor, 52 percent said good and 17 percent said not so good or poor.

"I'm flattered," the mayor said. "I'll take that approval rating after 6½ years."

Sixty-two percent of respondents said the city is headed in the right direction, versus 12 percent for the wrong direction.

Asked about 15 different aspects of city life, those surveyed rated Tampa most highly for having good options for restaurants and shopping, followed by the availability of good medical care and the job police are doing.

The bottom three were traffic congestion, which was rated lowest, followed by the condition of city streets and roads and the availability of affordable housing.

The 2019 mayor's race

A few of the questions can be taken as Buckhorn's desire to influence the race that will choose his successor.

There are no declared candidates so far, though the group that gets mentioned or acknowledges that they are thinking about running includes former police Chief Jane Castor, City Council member Harry Cohen, architect Mickey Jacob, philanthropist David A. Straz Jr., City Council member Mike Suarez and former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik.

Buckhorn says it's likely he will make an endorsement -- but not until late in the race (when voters are paying attention and it will have more impact) and after he hears what candidates are saying about him on the stump.

In the meantime, he asked Tampa residents whether they want the next mayor to be like Buckhorn and continue his policies or to move Tampa in a different direction.

Fifty-one percent said they would like to see Buckhorn's policies continued, 31 percent wanted a change in direction and 18 percent didn't know.

"You're always going to get 30 percent who are going to vote against you anyway," Buckhorn said, "so that's entirely predictable."