Reed poll: Stadium won't kill re-election hopes

Members of the Atlanta City Council this morning will begin another deep dive into the mind-boggling details of the $1billion-plus stadium deal brokered by Mayor Kasim Reed and Falcons owner Arthur Blank.

More than $800 million will come from Blank and the NFL, with another $50 million for roads, sewer lines and such. And $200 million more courtesy of a hotel-motel tax on visitors to Atlanta. A Blank charity foundation will chip in yet another $15 million for the area’s blighted neighborhoods.

Pretty soon, we’ll be talking about real money.

But missing from today’s public presentation will be some digits crucial to any politician’s election-year thought process: What are the odds that voters will slap down anyone who dares to cast a vote to replace the 21-year-old Georgia Dome?

Now, let’s be honest. Eight votes are required for approval by the 15-member City Council. Ten members showed up to shake Blank’s hand last week.

That said, there’s a reason that Gov. Nathan Deal kicked this particular can across the street to City Hall. Statewide polling on taxpayer-funded athletic venues is dismal. Republican state lawmakers, much as they might like those free Falcons tickets, refused to touch it.

So if you have an office in City Hall, there’s part of you that must feel like a taste-tester at a poisoners convention. And even the most liberal member of the City Council is a John Birch conservative when it comes to job security.

Enter the mayor of Atlanta, who has sprung for a poll likely to become a major topic of conversation. The survey by Anzalone, Liszt, Grove Research, the same Washington firm Barack Obama used in 2008, makes two important points:

  • Atlanta isn't tea party territory. City voters, if presented with the right arguments, can be persuaded that a new Falcons stadium is worth building.
  • Secondly, Reed has enough coat tails to give cover to any "yes" vote on the new stadium. Scratch that. "Coat tails" is the wrong phrase. The mayor has a cape.

Yes, it’s his poll, paid for with his campaign funds. But let’s take it at face value, with a pinch of salt and a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

Eighty-three percent of 802 likely municipal voters look upon Reed favorably – a few points higher than their rating for President Barack Obama. (The Atlanta Falcons have a favorability rate of 80 percent – all told, it was a good season.)

Only 39 percent of Republicans say they would endorse his re-election, but 69 percent give him a favorable job rating. In Buckhead, Reed’s support rises to 79 percent.

There is the promise of unexpended political capital here. But for members of the City Council, there is also the unstated subtext that a second Reed term is as certain as anything can be in politics. Oppose this Falcons deal, and prepare for four years of unpleasant fallout.

One more important point: The most radical move Reed has made as mayor is his close working relationship with Georgia’s Republican governor. In a highly Democratic city like Atlanta, a member of the City Council might worry about being accused of toadyism. While Atlanta politicians take the risk, the state – through the Georgia World Congress Center Authority — would hold title to the new stadium.

But no. Fifty-eight percent of those polled disagreed with the statement that “Kasim Reed is too accommodating to the Republican governor and state Legislature.”

And when Reed’s bipartisan advocacy for dredging of the Port of Savannah comes up, approval skyrockets to 74 percent. So there’s little upside to party-based isolationism.

What gives the mayor’s poll the feel of legitimacy is that, when first asked whether they approve of the plan to build a new stadium for the Falcons, 55 percent of voters say no. Only 36 percent approve.

But this is a survey – conducted in mid-February – intended to test the strength of arguments used by advocates of the stadium.

The generation of “2,000 construction jobs during the course of construction” is the strongest mind-changer. Just behind it is the contention that spending $200 million on a new stadium makes more sense than spending $300 million to rehabilitate the current stadium.

The prospect of a Super Bowl carries slightly less weight. As does the claim that 84 percent of the taxpayer’s share of the cost of a new stadium “comes from visitors to Atlanta,” while only 3 percent of funding comes from “actual Atlanta taxpayers.”

The threat of Los Angeles poaching our football team appears to be the weakest line of argument. The possibility that disappointed Falcons might move to the suburbs of Atlanta – a more likely scenario, despite Blank’s protestations to the contrary – was not incorporated into the poll.

After all extra elements were presented, voters were asked again: Is a new Falcons stadium worth the coin that would be spent.

Fifty-four percent said yes. Thirty-nine percent said no.

That’s not a landslide endorsement. Nor is it, in political terms, an easy lift. But it does indicate that the approval of a new Falcons stadium is a survivable vote – and not the poison that many think it is. At least, not in the city of Atlanta.