NEWS RELEASE – April 4, 2014

Contact: Amanda Heersink, Project Spokesperson
719-466-0210; citizensurveyproject@gmail.com
Citizen Survey Project
www.facebook.com/citizensurveyproject

POLL SHOWS PUBLIC OPINION MAY DIFFER FROM LEGISLATIVE VOTES

Denver – Does public opinion make a difference? The answers may surprise you.

Two years ago, former State Senator Ron Tupa decided to find out whether public opinion matters in a legislator’s vote. Tupa is pursuing a Master’s Degree in political communications, and as part of his Master’s Thesis “Citizen Survey Project” decided to ask Colorado voters to weigh in on some of the bills going through the Colorado Legislature this year. The rationale behind the thesis is to examine the relationship between constituent opinion and legislative voting behavior.

Last weekend, Public Policy Polling surveyed registered voters in eight Senate districts on five bills. The senate districts chosen are represented by members who are not up for re-election this November, and are a mix of Democrats and Republicans. Tupa chose four bills awaiting action in the Senate and one bill that the Senate has already voted on.

Senate Bill 93 showed a striking disconnect between how senators voted and how their constituents responded to the poll question. Voters in each district strongly opposed SB-93, while the bill gained support from senators of both parties. Six of the eight senators whose districts were polled voted to support the bill, despite 80% of registered voters expressing disapproval in one district, SD 12, and 76% opposed in SD 31.

The five bills are:

  1. House Bill 1304
    Question: The state legislature is currently debating a bill that would designate the Palisade peach as the state fruit of Colorado. Would you say you support or oppose this measure?
  2. House Bill 1161
    Question: The state legislature is currently debating a bill that helps ensure Amtrak will continue to provide passenger train service to southeast Colorado, including Pueblo, but may end up costing the state up to $4 million annually. Would you say you support or oppose this measure?
  3. House Bill 1288
    Question: The state legislature is currently debating a bill that makes it harder for parents to exempt their children from being immunized if they attend Colorado public schools. Instead of the current ‘opt-out’ provision, if passed, parents would be required to show proof that they received additional information about the benefits and risks of immunization before being allowed to exempt their children. Would you say you support or oppose this measure?
  4. House Bill 1318
    Question: The state legislature is currently debating a bill that would cost $4 million a year, for a total of $12 million over three years, to provide enhanced unemployment insurance compensation benefits for eligible individuals enrolled in approved job training programs and entering into new occupations. Would you say you support or oppose this measure?
  5. Senate Bill 93
    Question: For 100 years, oil companies assumed they had the power of eminent domain to take private property for purposes of installing oil pipelines; however, the Colorado Supreme Court recently said that was incorrect. In response, the state legislature is currently debating a bill that would grant oil companies the ability to take private property through eminent domain when they cannot come to an agreement with the property owners in order to install their oil pipelines. Would you say you support or oppose this measure?

*PPP surveyed 1,350 registered voters in Colorado Senate Districts 10, 12, 17, 26, 27, 28, 31, and 33 from March 27 to March 30.  The margin of error was +/- 2.7% for the survey’s aggregate total (individual districts vary). PPP surveys are conducted through automated telephone interviews.

Tupa says that surveys of this type, which gauge public opinion on specific issues within particular legislative districts, are uncommon for academic studies but are more accurate at conveying constituent opinion compared to polls conducted at a statewide level.

To obtain full results by district, visit http://facebook.com/citizensurveyproject or email Amanda Heersink for the complete report at citizensurveyproject@gmail.com.

Thesis Rationale:

As a graduate student studying political communication my interest lies in the intersection between politics and new media, and in particular social media. I am intrigued by the potential of social media to engage the public in a way that is both useful to our democratic system of government in general, and yet more relevant and meaningful for the individual citizen. At the same time I am struck by how little is known regarding the nexus between constituent opinion on specific issues and decisions made by elected officials on policy questions related to those issues.

Since 2012 my academic study has centered on literature involving new media and its emergent role in political communication, and how constituent opinion influences voting behavior and policy decisions of elected officials. For the past two years I have focused my research to elucidate the question: in the age of social media how much does constituent opinion really matter in political decision making?

Fulfilling the mission of Regis University requires an endeavor to discover the truth and contribute to the improvement and transformation of society. The ‘Citizen Survey Project’ serves as the cornerstone of an ongoing research effort that began with the exploration of scores of scholarly works detailing an interconnectedness of public opinion and new media with political systems and policy decisions of elected officials, and culminates in a Master’s Thesis that synthesizes the relationship between all four.

- Ron Tupa
former CO state senator
graduate student, Regis University