SAN ANTONIO – Editor’s note: The Bexar Facts-KSAT-San Antonio Report poll is a partnership that launched in Feb. 2020 with the aim of informing and engaging the San Antonio community. See the results of the fifth poll here and watch a debate between the San Antonio Police Officer’s Association and FixSAPD over Prop B on KSAT.com on April 8 at 7 p.m.
The results of a newly released poll show that the fate of Proposition B, a high-profile initiative that would strip San Antonio police of their collective bargaining power, looks to be a toss-up with less than a month to go before the May 1 election.
The Bexar Facts-KSAT-San Antonio Report 2021 Q1 Poll puts support for Prop B at 34% compared to the opposition at 39%. More than a quarter of respondents, 28%, are undecided, meaning the race is “wide open,” said Dave Metz, founder of FM3 Research, which conducted the poll.
“Many voters are undecided, and among even those with a position on the measure, relatively few are fully committed to vote that way,” Metz told KSAT 12. “It’s likely that the ballot language is a little technical and confusing, and many voters are in need of additional information.”
Historically, Metz said, confusion on a proposition typically favors the “no” campaign.
“That said, having this many voters undecided is also an advantage for whichever side has more resources to communicate and make its case between now and Election Day,” Metz said.
The polling, which took place over phone and email between March 23 and March 29, gauged the opinions of 618 Bexar County voters. Of those, only the roughly 400 respondents who live in San Antonio and said they plan to vote were asked questions about the May 1 election.
Both the San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) — who oppose the ballot measure — and Fix SAPD — the grassroots group that led the petition to put Prop B on the ballot — will have a chance to make their case Thursday evening during a forum hosted by KSAT 12 News, the San Antonio Report and Bexar Facts.
Supporters of the initiative say the passage of Prop B would give the city more local control over the police department and give the city more leverage in ensuring accountability against officers who have committed misconduct. Critics, however, have argued that without collective bargaining, officers’ pay and health benefits would fall under the city’s discretion and possibly make it harder to recruit and retain officers.
The movement to vote on the measure gained steam over the summer after George Floyd was killed by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, sparking nationwide protests and a renewed dialogue on police reform.
A challenge for both Fix SAPD and SAPOA in the coming weeks will be to win over voters who may hold a more nuanced stance on police reform.
“There are other numbers that provide some clues, but they don’t all point in the same direction,” Metz said. “Overall, voters approve of the performance of SAPOA – which might give some credibility to their campaign. But at the same time, we also see that a majority view the police union as an obstacle to police accountability – which is obviously a theme that proponents may emphasize.”
The appetite for police reform among the general public has also waned since the summer when it was potentially at an all-time high, the polling showed. That might bode well for opponents of Prop B in May.
For either side, messaging will be key leading up to Election Day.
“The degree to which each campaign can get its message out between now and Election Day; whichever campaign reaches more voters earlier will have a big advantage,” Metz said. “In our business, we always say that campaigns matter – and on this measure, they matter more than most.”
The campaign, so far, has been contentious. The police union has consistently painted the proposition as an effort to “defund police,” accusing Fix SAPD of lying to the public in its campaign, while activists have reported feeling threatened and harassed by SAPOA supporters.
Though the police’s ability to collectively bargain hangs in the balance on May 1, the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Police Officers Association are in the middle of negotiating a new contract, as the current one is set to expire on Sept. 30.
If Prop B succeeds, those negotiations would likely be halted as the council decides whether to pursue a new agreement under a “meet-and-confer” process, which does not require binding arbitration like the collective bargaining process includes.
Fix SAPD is also working on a petition to get the local repeal of Chapter 143 in front of voters, too, though that requires a much higher signature threshold than the petition for Chapter 174 did.
Most of San Antonio’s city council hasn’t taken a solid stance on Prop B, but several indicated they would not vote for a new contract until after Prop B is decided.