Philadelphians don’t like the city’s soda tax. But that doesn’t mean they’re ready to punish the politicians who created it.
So says a new poll from the American Beverage Association, a soda-tax foe that surveyed 600 likely Democratic primary voters two weeks ago.
The poll found Democratic voters oppose the tax, 59 percent to 38 percent. By a similar margin, 60 percent of the voters in the poll support repealing the tax, while 36 percent want to keep it.
Mayor Jim Kenney has touted the tax, which funds pre-K education, as his top accomplishment since taking office in 2016.
Voters, asked to consider that, split evenly on whether Kenney should win a second term, with 43 percent saying yes and 43 percent saying no. Recent polling on a wider set of issues showed Kenney in a strong position to win reelection.
Soda-tax supporters on Council face a slightly harsher verdict in the ABA poll, with 43 percent saying they should be voted out and 39 percent saying they should be reelected. That falls within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Pollster Will Gudelunas, of the firm David Binder Research, noted that, of the 60 percent who support repealing the tax, 51 percent described their feelings as “strong,” while 9 percent said they “somewhat” want to get rid of the tax.
“When they come to evaluating their Council members, it is something they’re going to consider,” Gudelunas said.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 600 registered Democrats from Feb. 19-21, reached on a mix of land and mobile lines.
Council approved the tax, 13-4, in June 2016. Since January 2017 the levy has added 1.5 cents per ounce on sweetened beverages to pay for expanded pre-K and other city programs.
The tax is widely expected to be a hot topic in the May 21 Democratic primary, with Kenney facing one anti-soda tax challenger, former City Controller Alan Butkovitz, and possibly another, State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams.
Council members who supported the tax have been bracing for challengers backed by the soda industry, either directly or via an independent expenditure political action committee that wouldn’t be subject to Philadelphia’s campaign-finance limits as long as it does not coordinate efforts with candidates.
“While I can’t comment on our strategy, it’s obvious that this issue is potent and registers with the electorate,” said Anthony Campisi, a spokesperson for the ABA-supported Ax the Philly Bev Tax Coalition.
The poll found strong majorities in most demographics support repealing the tax: women (61 percent), men (58 percent), Blacks (65 percent), Latinos (67 percent), people of mixed race (65 percent). Only whites were split, with 48 percent in favor of ending the tax and 49 percent wanting it kept in place.
The beverage association spent $16.2 million lobbying against the levy from 2016 to 2018. Philadelphians For a Fair Future, founded to support the tax, spent just under $3.6 million in the same period.
“It’s no surprise that the American Beverage Association would release a poll that reflects negatively on the tax,” Kenney spokesperson Harrison Morgan said. “They’ve spent many millions of dollars on a campaign of misinformation."