Published on 3/20/2018 by Marc Caputo
MIAMI — Florida voters look ready to ban greyhound racing by a supermajority vote, according to a new survey that shows the issue fares better at the polls if people identify the proposal with animal welfare instead of gambling.
The poll, paid for by the animal-rights group GREY2K USA Worldwide, also shows outsized support for other topics — from cracking down on illegal immigrant labor to banning offshore oil drilling to imposing school board term limits — that could appear on the November ballot as state constitutional amendments along with the greyhound proposal.
All the measures are under consideration by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which is meeting in Tallahassee every day this week to decide what proposals amendments to put before voters.
The survey of 1,000 likely voters focused on greyhounds, tested how the issue might fare in a political campaign and was conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, a firm that typically polls for Republicans and has extensive experience in Sunshine State races.
In the initial ballot question, Florida voters supported the measure, 65–27 percent. But overall opposition remained flat, while support increased to about 70 percent after respondents were asked three questions in support and three questions in opposition to the proposed amendment, according to the poll which was shared with POLITICO Florida.
"Floridians are deeply concerned about the humane issues including confinement, greyhound deaths and injuries,” said Carey M. Theil, executive director of GREY2K USA Worldwide. “By contrast, roughly two-thirds of Florida voters are not moved at all by opposition arguments, including job claims. We gain support when it's clear this is an animal welfare issue.”
His organization has fought greyhound racing in multiple states but had little success in Florida, which has 12 of the nation’s 18 tracks. At its peak, greyhound racing was in 19 states. Today, commercial greyhound racing is banned in 40 states.
If the poll numbers hold up, the amendment would easily clear the 60 percent voter-approval threshold to become law in Florida.
But Theil acknowledges that his group will face strong opposition from greyhound breeders, who maintain that they take good care of their animals and have called the proposal a job-killer.
Another complication for the proposal: If it makes the ballot, it probably won’t stand alone.
Because the Constitution Revision Commission is wading through dozens of proposals to place on the 2018 general election ballot, it plans to bundle various amendments together. That means the fate of seemingly disparate issues could be combined.
As a result, GREY2K and McLaughlin surveyed the language of the following proposed amendments with which the greyhound proposal could share — or would like to share — the same ballot question:
— Immigration: Requiring employers to use the federal government’s E-Verify system to ensure an employee is a lawful immigrant or citizen: 69–16 percent.
— Oil drilling: Banning offshore oil or natural gas drilling in Florida’s coastal waters: 59–35 percent.
— Term limits: Limiting school board candidates to no more than eight consecutive years in office: 82-12 percent.
— Marsy’s Law: Granting crime victims the same rights as accused criminals: 70-13 percent.
— Vaping: Banning electric cigarettes, or vaping, in places where smoking is already prohibited: 68-27 percent.
— Nursing homes: Granting nursing home and assisted living facility residents a bill of rights for adequate healthcare and a safe environment: 88-7 percent.
State Sen. Tom Lee (R-Brandon), a commission member who’s sponsoring the greyhound proposal, said he didn’t like the “logrolling” of different issues together. But many on the commission felt they had no choice because they didn’t want too long of a ballot with too many individual questions that could fatigue voters.
“I’ve been in this arena for some time, and I’ve seen a lot of good policy die thanks to bad process,” Lee said.
Jeff Kottkamp, who represents the Florida Greyhound Racing Association, said the proposal would be weaker on its own. He said other polls have shown the greyhound measure isn’t so popular, and a ban on dog racing would just lead to the expansion of other types of gambling.
“It’s a backdoor way of expanding gambling,” Kottkamp said. “The fact is that greyhounds are treated quite well and live greyhound racing in the last five years has contributed $1.2 billion to the state in revenues.”
Theil disputed the figures and said the amendment is simply a way to stop the inhumane treatment of racing dogs. That issue resonates with voters, the poll shows. But an anti-gambling message doesn’t.
In general, the poll found that only 5 percent of Florida voters oppose gambling as unethical or immoral and 17 percent were fine with gambling without any regulations. But 52 percent said gambling was okay as long as it was regulated and 24 percent said they were opposed to gambling but felt people had the right to wager if they so choose.
On the issues, 71 percent said they would be more likely to support the proposal after being told a greyhound dies on average every three days at a Florida dog track and that nearly 500 greyhounds have died since 2000 in the state. That number ticked up to 73 percent when respondents were told greyhounds “endure lives of confinement … in small cages” and that the dogs “routinely suffer serious injuries at Florida racetracks, including broken legs, broken necks, and paralysis.”
When told that ending greyhound racing could “shut down a thriving, legitimate industry,” only 31 percent said they would be more likely to oppose the amendment; 64 percent said it would make no difference. The numbers held the same when told that greyhound racing fully complies with American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines governing the housing, feeding and treatment of the dogs. When informed that lawmakers should handle the matter, and not the people by way of a constitutional amendment, voters were similarly unmoved.