The Kenney administration drank deep of the results of a new Pew study that showed a plurality of Philadelphians support the mayor and his hallmark soda tax, amongst other findings.
Taking into account a 3 percent margin of error, 54 percent supported the tax, with 42 percent actively opposed.
“This poll makes clear that despite the soda industry’s millions of dollars of misleading advertising, residents still support the Philadelphia Beverage Tax and the important educational and community programs that it funds,” Kenney said, in a prepared statement.
The new revenue source is central to the mayor’s agenda, pegged to spending on expanded pre-K services and other core campaign promises. The beverage industry aggressively lobbied against the tax on sugary drinks and is currently suing the city over the issue.
In response, these groups contested the Pew study’s margin of error and methodology.
“Poll respondents were not informed that less than half the money raised in the first five years would be spent on pre-K,” said Anthony Campisi, a spokesman for Philadelphians Against the Grocery Tax.
Campisi pointed to anti-tax groups’ own polling.
“A poll taken just before the passage of the tax when the debate was at its height found that nearly 60 percent of registered Philadelphia voters opposed the tax,” he said.
The Pew study also showed that the tax has, regardless of popularity, become a highly polarizing issue for city residents. Nearly 75 percent of respondents said they either strongly supported or opposed the levy.
The nonprofit regularly polls the city on a various civic and quality of life issues. Also included in this year’s survey were questions about the mayor himself and the direction of the city as a whole.
Kenney’s approval rate stood at 53 percent, but only 23 percent said they disapproved of his term in office thus far. Fifty percent of Philadelphians thought the city was heading in the right direction.
These findings varied widely by race and geography. Kenney’s support largely emanated from the city’s wealthy downtown and majority-African-American sections, like North and West Philadelphia. But black and Hispanic residents were also the most likely to say that the city was headed in the wrong direction.
There was also broad support for recent, high-profile events – like a 2015 papal visit and the recent Democratic National convention. Three-quarters of city residents said they supported those events, and would welcome more.
Worryingly, while ratings of Philadelphia schools improved slightly, the number of 18-to-34-year-olds that said they planned to build a future in the city fell from 59 percent to 48 percent.