CES Updates

Poll: Strong Support for Approval Voting in St. Louis

With St. Louis Approves rapidly approaching their signature goal and support for initiative growing every day, we thought it might be time to ask:

How do St. Louisans really feel about approval voting?

Well, we asked them. This fall the Center for Election Science conducted a poll to gauge voter attitudes. The poll was conducted by Change Research from Oct. 4-9, 2019, and polled 502 registered voters in St. Louis City, with a margin of error of 4%. 

Their answer? St. Louis voters like it, and they’re ready to support it now.

Key Takeaways

  • When reading the text of the ballot measure, without any messaging or priming, 72% support of citizens said they’d vote for it. That number remains remarkably steady after both positive and negative messaging.
  • Support is strongest among African Americans (79%), and very strong among white voters (71%).
  • 86% of people who say they would “definitely” vote on the measure would vote to support it.
  • Approval voting motivates people to get involved in the democratic process. Across the board, citizens said they were more likely to vote in future city elections under approval voting, including:
    • 53% of all citizens
    • 74% of African Americans
    • 68% of people with some college or less
    • 64% of people ages 18-35 
    • 63% of people currently very dissatisfied with St. Louis elections
  • People of all political persuasions are open to the measure. Significant percentages of Democrats (75%), Republicans (60%) and Independents (72%) said they’d support the initiative based solely on the ballot language (no messaging).
  • Approval voting is supported by the public. Initial support is high and shows net growth, even after hearing potential arguments for and against it.
    • 65% support approval voting at first, 73% after messaging

Baseline Awareness and Initial Beliefs

In an education campaign, it’s critically important to know how much the public knows and what their initial reactions are. The poll gives us great news, as the education campaign has a sound foundation to build on. 

  • St. Louis voters believe:
    • Changing a voting method is legal (53%, 29% don’t know)
    • Approval voting, specifically, is legal and possible (60%, 25% don’t know)
    • Changing a voting method doesn’t have to cost a lot of money (48%, 25% don’t know)
  • Initial awareness:
    • Most impressively, 48% of St. Louisans have heard of approval voting, including 54% of African Americans and 44% of white voters. This is especially remarkable given the fact that there has been zero paid advertising so far.
  • The greatest opportunity for awareness lies on both ends of the age spectrum, with people ages 18-35 (58%) and age 61+ (61%) saying they have not heard much about approval voting “at all.”

St. Louis Voters Want Their Voices Heard

Overall, voters are evenly split on the way elections are carried out (45% satisfied, 44% unsatisfied), but the vast majority of those who are satisfied are only somewhat satisfied. However, citizens have much stronger feelings about their local representation.

This indicates citizens don’t yet tie their elections/voting method (which they seem pretty ambivalent about) to the resulting representation in government (which they feel strongly about). For example:

  • Today only 29% of citizens think officials represent the population well (2% very well), 62% badly.
    • Notably, African American and white voters feel similarly. Only 27% of African American voters feel they are represented well, along with 30% of white voters.
  • The majority of citizens (56%) feel their representatives are only “sometimes” or “rarely” supported by “most voters” (i.e. they do not have broad support).
  • Citizens reacted best to messages backed by statistics. 70% said hearing that many recent elections had serious vote-splitting issues made them more likely to vote for approval voting. This seemed to be an “ah-ha” moment for many voters.

Open-Ended Answers

We asked why people support or oppose the measure both before and after messages. Supporters tended to focus on fairness, giving voters more power and more choice; these did not appear to change significantly after messaging. On opposition, many people initially said they just needed more information; many others believed that nothing was wrong with the current system.

Concluding Thoughts

These poll numbers tell us that St. Louis is open to change, that residents believe approval voting can truly change their lives and government, and that they are ready to support it at the ballot box.

The fact that awareness is nearly at 50% so early into the campaign is truly impressive. We believe the favorable numbers laid out previously will only grow as St. Louisans hear more about the benefits of approval voting.

Most importantly, voters of all persuasions seem open to this reform. Should this measure make the ballot in 2020, it is our sincere belief that this measure would pass.

But there is still much work to do. With your help, we can educate the remaining 52% of St. Louisans about the benefits of approval voting and how it will strengthen democracy in the Gateway City.

Do you have questions or want to get involved? Contact our Director of Campaigns & Advocacy to learn more:

Chris Raleigh