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Maybe that D.C. United stadium deal isn’t so unpopular after all. Six weeks after a Washington Post poll found that about 60 percent of D.C. residents opposed the proposal to build a soccer stadium at Buzzard Point with city assistance, my colleague Will Sommer reports on a new poll showing that more Washingtonians support than oppose the plan.
How can we account for the discrepancy? One explanation is statistical noise. The new poll, from Public Policy Polling, had fewer respondents than the Post poll, and its +/- 4.2 percent margin of error means that the margin of approval-to-disapproval—-49 percent to 42 percent—-may not be statistically significant.
But the margin of error still can’t account for the sharp divergence from the previous poll, which reported 59 percent opposition to the stadium plan to just 35 percent support.
So either the plan has become more popular in the last month—-unlikely, given the shift in the political winds against the proposed deal that saw mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser come out in opposition recently—-or there’s something else affecting respondents’ opinions. And now I’ll stop beating around the bush and come out with it: It’s all in the wording of the question.
The Post poll asked: “Generally speaking, do you favor or oppose using city funds to help finance a new soccer stadium for the District’s Major League Soccer team, D.C. United?” And generally speaking, people said they opposed the use of city money to build a soccer stadium, just as they generally opposed the use of city money to build Nationals Park back when that was proposed. (The latter, by the way, has since become quite popular, with over 70 percent support, according to the Post poll.)
But the D.C. United plan is a specific plan, and it isn’t the Nationals plan. Instead, it’s, well, what Public Policy Polling described in its poll question: “There is a proposal to use up to $150 million in city funds to buy land where a new stadium can be built for the District’s Major League Soccer team, D.C. United. The city would maintain ownership of the property and rent it to the team for $1 per year, while the soccer team would pay to construct the actual stadium. Do you support or oppose this proposal?”
There are plenty of reasons to oppose this plan—-the hefty city investment in the land for the stadium, the $1 rent—-but when presented with this information, D.C. residents were still more supportive than opposed. Granted, this poll question also wasn’t completely thorough: It neglected to mention, for example, the land swaps that would likely be needed for the city to obtain the stadium grounds, including a trade of the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets NW to a private developer.
But it does appear that when given more information about the actual deal at hand, residents are open to the idea. City leaders (and mayoral hopefuls) will want to take this into account, because actual development deals, as it turns out, rarely speak generally.
Rendering courtesy of the Office of the City Administrator