HB 77: Gauging Public Sentiment

Last year, HB77 stalled in part because its opponents were vocal. People packed town hall meetings to tell their legislators to fight it, and tribes across the state passed resolutions asking for a “no” vote. But how widespread was that opposition?

The Hays Group released a poll this week the gauges public sentiment on the bill. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez joins us to walk us through the numbers.

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So, what did the poll determine?

That people mostly don’t even know what it does! I’ve got the poll in front of me, and it says only 15 percent of people they called had heard of the bill – let alone know what’s in it.

But the people who have been tracking it don’t like it. Nearly half of those people who are familiar with the legislation “strongly” oppose it, while another 10% just sort of oppose it. Less than a quarter of people surveyed said they’re in favor of the bill, which is about the same amount of people who said they had no opinion.

Alaska is notoriously difficult to poll. Can you tell us a little bit about how it was conducted?

The survey was commissioned by Trout Unlimited, a conservation group focused on fish habitat, and they project a 4 percent margin of error. The poll was done over the phone – and this includes cell phones — in February, and about 500 likely voters were surveyed.

The Hays Group asked people for their party affiliations, and about a third were Republicans and another third were independents. Just 15 percent were Democrats. The rest identified as other or refused to say.

As far as the language of the survey goes, it’s pretty straight forward when dealing with people who already know what the bill does. But if you’re a respondent who has never heard of HB77, you get the bill described to you in really simple terms. Remember, it’s a super complicated bill. The poll sums it up this way:

“House Bill 77 is designed to allow government officials to issue development permits more quickly by taking away some public participation opportunities from Alaskans.” After hearing that phrasing, nearly 70 percent of respondents say they oppose the bill. Now, if HB77 had been described as something that “streamlines the permitting process,” to borrow the Parnell administration’s terminology, the results might be different.

Does the poll get into whether voters will punish or support lawmakers who come out in favor of HB77?

That’s actually one of the things I think is interesting about this poll.

Even though this is an issue state lawmakers are going to have to vote on, the Hays Group didn’t ask people if a vote for or against HB77 would affect their opinions of their own legislators. They asked if it would make them more or less likely to support Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Dan Sullivan. He was the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources up until this September, and he was one of the authors of HB77.

At 32 percent, the most popular answer was it makes “no difference.” A quarter of respondents said it made them “much less likely” to support Sullivan, and about 15 percent said it only hurt their opinion of Sullivan a little. A total of 10 percent of respondents said HB77 made them more likely to support him.

Now, we’ve already talked about how Alaska is really, really difficult to poll, and that language in these polls matters. But whether these numbers mean anything or not, that the poll even asks about this shows that some people are thinking about using the permitting bill as a line of attack.

So far, ads targeting Dan Sullivan have tried to cast him as a stranger to Alaska. They talk about the home he maintained in Maryland, and the fact that he’s from Ohio. Instead, this question focuses on Sullivan’s record, and it looks like people are wondering if this would be a weak spot for him. I guess the proof will be if we see attack ads on this subject.

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agutierrez (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.209.1799 | About Alexandra