Case Study

Passing Proposition P in St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis

Despite the presence of organized opposition, City of St. Louis and St. Louis County voters showed up to the polls, passing Proposition P with a strong majority vote in the City of St. Louis—67 percent—and a slim majority of 53 percent in St. Louis County.

St. Louis’s Proposition P passed with a solid majority vote in the City of St. Louis (63%) and narrowly in St. Louis County (53%) in April 2013.  The campaign had a unique challenge because both County and City voters had to pass it in order to take effect. Because of the difference in demographics between the City and County, namely the conservative tendencies of County voters, we had to effectively run two campaigns to address the separate benefits and challenges of both voting demographics.

Proposition P increased safety, accessibility, security and repairs for St. Louis’s Gateway Arch, parks, trails and other conservation projects. The measure called for a sales tax increase—three sixteenths of a cent in addition to the existing one-tenth of a cent sales tax—posing a significant challenge to passing the measure, especially among County voters.

The opposition had two relatively strong arguments against the proposition—the community couldn’t afford to raise taxes again with the economy in bad shape, and the government should be cutting spending during the economic crisis. We also had to overcome a general opinion that improvements to the Arch Grounds was a federal responsibility.

Initial polling results showed the proposition in a slightly positive position. City voters supported the proposition—58 percent in favor—more than St. Louis County voters, with 53 percent support. After hearing positive and negative arguments for the measure, City voters jumped to 64 percent approval, and County voters rose to 58 percent.  Even though the campaign started with over 50 percent support, we knew persuading County voters would be hard because 40 percent of the funding was dedicated to improving the federally operated Arch grounds.

Targeting

Because of the significant difference in demographics and messaging, we effectively ran  two campaigns to gain a majority of support in St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis. For both the City and County, we sent 2 mail pieces of mail to likely absentee and early voters followed by five pieces of persuasion mail to likely voters in the April election. The plan also called for a GOTV mail piece to supporters and our highest persuadable demographic groups.

St. Louis County Universes

We targeted a universe of 17,340 absentee voter households with two mailings to houses with at least one person who voted absentee in the April 2010-12 elections.

In the general election, we mailed to an initial universe of 32,752 households who voted in the April 2010-12 elections. Identification calls, support group lists and the deletion of “Hard No Voters” adjusted and refined the universe.

When tracking and phone IDs showed lagging support for Prop P in St. Louis County, we expanded our universe by adding less frequently voting Democrats. We focused on townships where there were contested local elections. This strategy made the difference in winning 53 percent support from County voters.

City of St. Louis Universes

We targeted a universe of 9,558 absentee voting households with two mailings to homes where at least one person voted absentee in the April 2009 or April 2011 election.

For the general election, our City universe comprised 40,057 households that voted in the April 2009 election or the April 2011 election. This universe was supplemented and refined through voter identification calls, support group lists and the deletion of “Hard No Voters.”

Messaging

Three messages tested well with City and County voters:

  • We owe it to our children and grandchildren to save our open space, clean water and wildlife so future generations can enjoy. This message tested better with city voters (88 percent agreed) than county voters (81 percent agreed).
  • The Arch is a symbol of our community, and it is up to us to take the lead in making these changes, rather than waiting and hoping that the government will eventually do something. Eighty one percent of city voters agreed compared to 76 percent of county voters.
  • Preserving natural areas, wildlife habitat and water resources and providing recreational opportunities plays a very important role in preserving the quality of life in the St. Louis area. This message tested better with city voters (83 percent agreed) than county voters (78 percent agreed).

City Voter Messaging

City voters were more responsive to economic issues than County voters, so messaging in persuasive city voter mail had a larger economic influence.

By focusing on creating jobs and stimulating the economy, we were able to highlight economic issues while leaving room for safety and accessibility.

The mail displayed these messages:

  • Less than 2 cents on a $10 purchase is a small price to pay for a world class attraction like the Arch
  • Proposition P will get people working and stimulate our economy
  • In today’s digital age, it’s more important than ever to preserve places for children to run and play
  • Proposition P will make the Arch grounds safe and accessible to all
  • We must act now to preserve our quality of life for future generations

County Voter Messaging

Polling told us it was imperative to address the cost of the increased tax to County voters and the strict accountability measures included in Prop P to ensure the funds collected were properly spent.

Two message prominently displayed on the County pieces were:

  • Less than 2 cents on a $10 purchase is a small price to pay for a world class attraction like the Arch
  • In today’s digital age, it’s more important than ever to preserve places for children to run and play

We also hit County voters with messages focused on preserving quality of life for future generations and making the Arch grounds safer and more accessible.

Proposition P Wins

Despite the presence of organized opposition, City of St. Louis and St. Louis County voters showed up to the polls, passing Proposition P with a strong majority vote in the City of St. Louis—67 percent—and a slim majority of 53 percent in St. Louis County.