Emory poll: Majority of Buckhead residents oppose cityhood

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Less than half of Atlantans support planned public safety training center

A new poll from faculty at Emory University shows that a majority of Buckhead residents oppose the cityhood movement that died for a second straight year in the Legislature, and never made it to referendum.

The survey was conducted this month by McGuire Research Services and polled 800 Atlantans — half from the Buckhead neighborhood zip codes.

Around 41% of Buckhead residents said they supported secession, with 5% saying they’re not sure. That leaves a majority (54%) of Buckhead residents against splitting away from Atlanta.

Only 17% of non-Buckhead residents favored cityhood, with 8% saying they’re not sure.

The poll has a 5% margin of error.

The results flipped on the question of whether there should be a vote on cityhood — 51% of Buckhead residents support that idea, with just 38% opposed. Only 21% of non-Buckhead Atlanta residents liked the idea of a referendum.

Emory faculty also polled attitudes on Atlanta’s planned public safety training center in DeKalb County that has sparked both local and national outcry. Controversy over the facility has only deepened since an environmental activist was fatally shot by police, and more than 40 protesters have been charged with weighty domestic terrorism charges.

Just under half of Atlantans polled support the training center at 48%, with 46% opposed. Support for the facility was much higher in Buckhead, with 61% of those residents backing construction.

Debate over both the training center and Buckhead cityhood has consistently lacked hard numbers. Legislators who were tasked with making crucial decisions on Buckhead and the fate of Georgia’s capitol city were overwhelmed by anecdotal testimony on the topic.

“No one can point to, what I would say, is a legitimate survey of public opinion around either ‘cop city’ or the Buckhead city proposal,” said Michael Leo Owens, a professor of political science at Emory who conducted the survey. “So this was a way to try to get some understanding of where the public might be at.”

Earlier this month, the Georgia Senate rejected legislation that would have allowed for residents in the wealthy north Atlanta neighborhood to vote on whether or not they wanted to split from the rest of the city.

It wasn’t the first time a group of disgruntled Buckhead residents and Republican lawmakers who live outside of the city attempted to push the initiative through the General Assembly. Last year, the idea was stifled before it even reached a preliminary vote.

But proponents were optimistic this session after their pair of bills made it to a full vote on the Senate floor. The measure ultimately failed by a 33-23 vote, with all Democrats along with 10 GOP senators voting it down.

Associate Professor Zachary Peskowitz, who also worked on the survey, said that the results paint a picture of residents starkly divided on the idea both across neighborhoods and within Buckhead itself.

“It’s a very unpopular proposal in the non-Buckhead parts of the city,” he said. “I think, even in Buckhead itself, I would call it moderately popular.”

Critics of the secession movement argued that the proposal would devastate Atlanta’s public services and finances — from upending Atlanta Public Schools to chopping up the regional water and sewer system.

A majority of Buckhead residents polled by Emory also recognized that a split from the city would not be good for Atlanta.

“Even though they might support it and argue that it’s good for Buckhead, I think there is an acknowledgement by quite a few of Buckhead residents that it could be an adverse development for the city as a whole,” Peskowitz said.

The Buckhead cityhood push this year was dealt a brutal blow when Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive counsel David Dove penned a memo questioning the constitutionality of the bills and warning that the proposals could have unintended consequences on local governments across the state.

Bill White, leader of the Buckhead cityhood movement, said he remains “highly confident the overwhelming majority of Buckhead want to vote on cityhood.”

“The results of this new poll or any future poll is futile (until) we have new leadership that believes in Buckhead’s right to vote,” White said in an email.

The Emory survey confirmed that respondents within Buckhead saw crime as the top motivation behind the cityhood movement.

“I suspect that when people think of crime in relation to Buckhead city, it’s not crime in the city, it’s crime in Buckhead,” Owens said.

Controversy over Atlanta’s planned public safety training center was intertwined with the Buckhead secession effort this year. Owens said while the two issues dominate their own public debate, they don’t exist in silos.

“There’s a dimension of the cop city proposal and the city of Atlanta’s support for it, that is a response to the effort to try to create a Buckhead city,” he said. “So it is connected and important for one to think about as well.”

About the poll:

Emory contracted with McGuire Research Services, which surveyed participants March 7-12 over landline, cell phones and text messaging. Participants were identified through voter registration and consumer file databases, and were weighted to be representative of gender, age, race and partisanship of registered voters. The poll was funded by the Emory University Research Committee and the Department of Political Science. Pollsters say there is a 5% margin of error.

Buckhead Cityhood (Buckhead residents)

Support: 41%

Oppose: 54%

Not sure: 5%

Buckhead Cityhood (non-Buckhead residents)

Support: 17%

Oppose: 75%

Not sure: 8%

Buckhead Cityhood Referendum (Buckhead residents)

Support: 51%

Oppose: 38%

Not sure: 11%

Buckhead Cityhood Referendum (non-Buckhead residents)

Support: 21%

Oppose: 67%

Not sure: 12%

Public Safety Training Center (Buckhead residents)

Support: 61%

Oppose: 32%

Not sure: 7%

Public Safety Training Center (non-Buckhead residents)

Support: 46%

Oppose: 48%

Not sure: 6%