DuBOIS — An official from the firm which conducted a public telephone survey to gauge public interest in a proposed consolidation between the City of DuBois and Sandy Township has provided additional insight into the poll, which ultimately led to the township supervisors voting 4-1 not to move forward with the consolidation process.
The survey was conducted by Majority Communications from Harrisburg from May 10-13 and included 193 registered voters from the township and 125 from DuBois. There were an additional 82 phone calls made to residents (for a total of 400 calls). These 82 weren’t surveyed with all of the questions — a point of contention by some of the supervisors. Those 82 people were asked if they were familiar with the plan to consolidate the local governments of DuBois City and Sandy Township. If they answered no, the call was terminated. The 82 in question answered no. The consulting firm recommended ending the call if they weren’t familiar with the plan to consolidate. They believed this would provide the best information and most accurate results.
On June 7, the motion to end consolidation efforts was made by Supervisor Jim Jeffers and was seconded by Mark Sullivan. They, along with Supervisor Chairman Kevin Salandra and Bill Beers, voted in favor of halting the process, while Sam Mollica opposed. In their opinion, those halting the consolidation process stated that the survey results did not show “overwhelming” support from township residents and they did not want to invest more time and money in the process as a result.
A series of questions was asked in the survey, including:
- Do you generally have a positive or negative view on consolidation?
- Do you believe the plan to consolidate could make the governments more efficient?
- Do you believe the plan to consolidate will save residents money?
- And if you had to vote today, would you vote to consolidate the two local governments?
The results for Sandy Township showed:
- 54 percent had a positive view of consolidation;
- 31 percent had a negative view of consolidation and 15 percent were undecided.
- 52 percent of the surveyed residents thought this government would be more efficient.
- 32 percent thought it wouldn’t be more efficient and 16 percent were unsure.
- 39 percent of township residents thought that they wouldn’t save money from a consolidation process.
- 37 percent felt they would save money and 24 percent were unsure.
Additionally, 49 percent of the township residents would vote yes to consolidate if asked today, the survey stated. Thirty-three percent would vote no, and 18 percent were unsure how they would vote.
The survey also revealed that 65 percent of city residents would vote in favor of consolidation. It showed that 20 percent of DuBois residents and 33 percent of township residents would vote against consolidating the two governments, with the remaining percentage undecided. Among the residents surveyed, a majority had a positive view on consolidation and 2:1 believe that consolidation will make the local governments more efficient.
The margin of error for this sample size was no more than four points, said Matt Plummer, a general consultant and principal at Majority Communications.
“Obviously, statistical modeling is a science, it’s statistics,” said Plummer when asked how they decided how many people to survey. “The more people you survey, the fewer points of margin of error you have. If you have a 200-person survey, your margin of error, maybe in practice, 8 or 9 percent. You get to 300, it may be 4 to 6 percent. You get to 350, it’s about 4, maybe 4.2”
Plummer explained why 82 people contacted were not surveyed once they said they were not familiar with the issue.
“Well, I’m not sure why you would survey people about an issue they’re not familiar with,” said Plummer. “We were hired to get a collective opinion of informed voters who know about the prospect of consolidation. If someone doesn’t know about it, their opinion skews the sample. We were simply asked to terminate the call if somebody says they’re not informed about it. We’re just trying to poll and survey an informed electorate and that’s what we did.
“If you look at the informed electorate and you look at primary voters who vote in four of four elections or three of four elections, those are generally your super voters,” said Plummer. “And it was a comfortable 20- to 25-point margin of support over non-support of those who have made their decision. I’m not going to say that’s overwhelming, but I mean it’s pretty strong.”
Plummer, who has been doing polling work since 2014, said he has conducted other surveys like this regarding consolidation questions.
“We test ballot questions and measures all of the time,” said Plummer. “Municipal ballot questions are pretty straightforward to poll. I thought that among informed voters, likely voters, there was a much greater than average likelihood that this would pass the ballot.”
Plummer noted that his job in this case was just to poll it and then make a recommendation.
“My recommendation was, if you want to proceed, proceed,” said Plummer. “There’s a statistically strong likelihood that if this goes to the ballot it will pass. Is it impossible that it could fail? No, but statistically, you’re saying 95 to 96 out of 100 times, this is going to pass in the ballot measure. Again, it’s not my job to make the decision or to persuade, I guess in this case it was the supervisors, which way to go. It was just to objectively say, ‘Here are the numbers.’ I would say that I’ve seen valid measures go to the ballot with significantly less support and pass than this one had.”
The survey Plummer conducted for the City of DuBois and Sandy Township was a standard format.
“You could talk to 100 pollsters across the country, they do it the exact same way. I mean, they all would have terminated on, ‘No,’” said Plummer, referring to the 82 people who were not surveyed because they were not familiar with the issue. “If you’re trying to get a question answered and the question is among informed voters, what’s the likelihood this passes today, you’re not going to survey uninformed voters.”
When his company was retained, Plummer said they had a conversation with city Manager John “Herm” Suplizio and township Manager Shawn Arbaugh.
“They retained us to do a poll. We did it,” said Plummer. “They never said that we think it’s going to go one way or the other. They just said, ‘Do the poll, summarize the results, and make a recommendation.’ We did all of that and then we were kind of removed.”
Plummer said he was never asked by anyone from the city or the township as to why he didn’t survey those 82 people.
Plummer was asked by The Courier Express if he was aware that the supervisors voted 4-1 not to move forward with the consolidation process and cited the survey results as one of the reasons.
“Yes, I was a little surprised,” said Plummer. “Objectively, both municipalities supported it (consolidation). And combined, it was about a 20- to 22-point support to non-support among informed, decided voters. The ironic thing in all of it is that the least popular opinion was to maintain status quo, and that’s what it seems is going on.”