Support for Sales Tax Increase Drops as Voters Split on SLMPD's Protest Response

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Protesters and police face off in downtown St. Louis on September 15, 2017, the day a former cop was acquitted of murder. - PHOTO BY THEO WELLING
  • PHOTO BY THEO WELLING
  • Protesters and police face off in downtown St. Louis on September 15, 2017, the day a former cop was acquitted of murder.
St. Louis residents are deeply divided when it comes to the protests that have erupted in the city in the last three weeks, according to a new poll from Missouri Scout.

The poll consulted 1,072 likely general election voters on Friday and Saturday. It found that the percentage of city voters who approve of protesters' methods and actions is almost identical to the percentage who approve of the police department's handling of them — with 41 and 39 percent approval, respectively. Both police and protesters, too, earned 41 percent disapproval rates.

With a margin of error of 3.2 percent, that suggests the two factions are in a statistical dead heat in the court of public opinion — or, at least, the part of the court that has landlines and agrees to take survey questions. (Observers have noted that Tishaura Jones' strong second-place finish in the city's Democratic primary, which went unpredicted by many pollsters, suggests that young voters and black voters are underrepresented in such surveys.)

Mayor Lyda Krewson, too, finds herself right in the middle of a divided city, the poll found. A total of 36 percent say they approve of her performance, while 36 percent disapprove. Twenty-eight percent are undecided.

For the police department, however, the real danger might be in the results of another survey question — one that doesn't sound so bad on its face. The Missouri Scout poll found that 52 percent of respondents were in favor of increasing the sales tax by one half of one percent, as the Board of Aldermen has agreed to ask voters to do in November, "solely for the purpose of providing revenues for the department of public safety, including hiring more police officers, police and firefighter compensation and enhanced law enforcement." Twenty-nine percent said they opposed it, while nineteen percent said they were undecided.

But those numbers suggest support for law enforcement may be dropping: A previous Missouri Scout poll that asked the same question on August 4 and 5 found that 60 percent were in favor of the sales tax hike, with just 24 percent opposed.

This weekend's poll found that support for the sales tax increase was strongest among conservatives, who might ordinarily dislike higher taxes. Conservatives said yes to the increase, 58 to 28 percent. Liberals said no, with a margin of 48 to 31 percent. White voters also approved of the increase, with 57 percent lending support. That was true of only 49 percent of African American respondents.

Interestingly, 62 percent of poll respondents said they believe protesters have "legitimate concerns that need to be addressed." Just twenty percent said "no" to that question, with eighteen percent undecided.

The Missouri Scout poll is available only to subscribers, although the RFT was given access by the site's founder.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com