A new survey from Western New England University finds a majority of Springfield, Massachusetts, residents continue to support the MGM casino project downtown, 61 to 26 percent.
“That's a pretty significant margin, when you consider that ages ago, the actual project was approved by a somewhat narrower margin of 58-42 back in July of 2013,” said Tim Vercellotti, director of the WNEU Polling Institute.
Supporters said the casino opening in August will help the local economy and bring tax revenue. Those opposed said the casino will increase crime and make traffic worse.
And there's a gender difference in the survey: men are more likely to support the casino than women. The poll also found that newcomers are more likely to support the casino than people who've lived in Springfield 20 years or more.
The survey is a follow-up to a 2010 poll on Springfield quality-of-life issues. This is the first time the polling institute at WNEU has done a bilingual survey, in both English and Spanish. Examine the survey data for more details.
Read on for Vercellotti’s conversation with NEPR’s Kari Njiiri.
Kari Njiiri, NEPR: You asked Springfield residents what they think about the downtown casino that's opening in August. What did you learn?
Tim Vercellotti, WNEU: By a margin of 61 percent to 26 percent, Springfield residents support the casino complex coming in. That's a pretty significant margin when you consider that ages ago, the actual project was approved by a somewhat narrower margin of 58 to 42 back in July 2013.
The opposition is down to about 26 percent at this point. Interestingly enough, another 12 percent or so didn't know what to think about the project.
We did see there's a tremendous amount of public awareness of it. When we asked people how much information have you heard or read about the casino project, a large majority said they had heard a lot, or some, information about the project ahead of time.
What are the major reasons people support or oppose the casino?
We asked as a follow-up, have people say in their own words why they supported the casino, or why they opposed it, what the top reason would be. And then, among [the] supporters, about twothirds, 64 percent, said they expect the casino will bring jobs, economic development, revitalization to Springfield. So that was the most common reasons cited.
Second was that there would be additional tax revenue for the city. Fourteen percent gave that as a response.
In terms of opponents, the most common explanation given for why people opposed the casino was the concern that it will increase crime downtown. Forty percent gave that as their top reason, followed by concerns about traffic issues downtown. That came from 10 percent of the opponents of the casino.
Any insights into why these views differ?
It's very interesting to see how it breaks out by demographics. Men are more likely than women to support the casino, and we've seen that not just in Springfield polling, but statewide as well. So 66 percent of men support the casino; only 57 percent of women.
Young people are more supportive: 18-to-39-year-olds, 65 percent are in favor. Senior citizens 65 and older, only 57 percent.
How long you've lived in Springfield can determine your views on the casino, as well. Newcomers are more supportive than people who have lived here for 20 years or more.
What about the breakdown among so-called race or ethnic categories?
On the casino question, there wasn’t a lot of difference by race, when we broke it down by white non-Hispanic, black non-Hispanic and Hispanic. They just varied by a point or two.
You also asked residents about the Springfield economy and quality of life. What are some of the findings on this and and some ways in which residents’ views differ?
We were asking people: how would you rate Springfield as a place to live; excellent, good, only fair or poor? And we asked this question in 2010, as well. That was the last time we put these quality-of-life questions to residents of Springfield.
What we saw in the latest survey -- 56 percent of adults in Springfield rated the city as “excellent” or “good,” in terms of a place to live. And that's up 12 points from 2010, when only 44 percent said “excellent” or “good.” So there's been some movement there as well.
We also asked people, what about your specific neighborhood? How would you rate it as a place to live? And almost three-quarters -- 72 percent -- rated their neighborhoods “excellent” or “good.” That wasn't too far off our 2010 survey, when it was 68 percent.
While people may move to a city for a lot of different reasons, you really choose your neighborhood. There's some self-selection going on there. So these very positive views -- we've seen this before in our surveys.
We were also asking how people view the various kinds of services the city is providing. And we saw some movement, in particular, on public safety. We asked, how would you rate the city's efforts at combating crime: excellent, good, fair or poor?
Forty-one percent said “excellent” or “good.” And that was up 13 points from 2010, when it was only 28 percent.
Now to keep this in context: in the latest survey, 56 percent said “fair” or “poor.” That's down from 71 percent, but it's still a majority of the respondents.
And when we break this question out by race, we do see some big differences there. While white respondents -- 50 percent -- rate the city's efforts as “fair” or “poor” in public safety, among black respondents, it's 67 percent; and among Hispanic respondents, it’s 69 percent.
And gender as well?
Yeah, we saw actually some significant differences by gender as well. Men were more likely to rate the city positively than women. And conversely, women are more likely to rate the city negatively on public safety than men.
So if you're looking at the percent rating the city only “fair” or “poor” on public safety, among women, it's 63 percent. Among men, it's 51 percent. So we do see some big differences there as well.
But the difference overall between this survey compared to 2010, fewer people citing crime as the most important problem?
What we saw was a shift in how people are thinking about public safety issues compared to 2010. So back in 2010, 60 percent of respondents listed crime or public safety as the top issue facing Springfield at that time.
That number has dropped to 41 percent in the latest survey. But what has emerged is the issue of opioids. When we ask people, what is the most important problem facing Springfield today? After crime and public safety, drugs and the opioid epidemic came in second at 14 percent. That wasn't even showing up in the data back in 2010.
There’s an interesting disparity [in this latest survey] between the present and the future. Respondents were pretty gloomy about the current situation when it comes to the local economy in Springfield. Twenty-nine percent said “excellent” or “good.” Seventy percent said “fair” or “poor.”
But when we asked them to look down the road five years: do you expect Springfield’s economy to be better, worse or about the same? A majority -- 59 percent -- said they expect Springfield’s economy to be “much better” or “somewhat better,” and 9 percent said “much worse” or “somewhat worse.” Twenty-seven percent said “the same.”
What we found is there is a strong statistical connection between optimism about the economy and support for the casino.
Among supporters of the casino, two-thirds -- 67 percent -- expect Springfield’s economy to be “much” or “somewhat better” in five years. Among opponents of the casino it's only 40 percent.
So the casino is driving a lot of expectations, and contributing to optimism about the economy, in the near future in Springfield. Now it will be very interesting to watch that opinion dynamic as the casino shifts from being something theoretical and abstract, to something real and present, in everyday life here in Springfield.