A recent poll commissioned by Bristol Motor Speedway shows that more people support a pending racetrack deal than oppose it.
Getting a $100 million-plus renovation of the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway has been at the top of Mayor John Cooper’s agenda since the conclusion of the Titans stadium deal. Conducted by the D.C.-based Hart Research Associates, the poll is being touted by BMS as showing overwhelming support for the racetrack deal, but a 9 percent margin of error among the sample of the neighbors surrounding The Fairgrounds Nashville and the framing of some questions have left those critical of the deal unsatisfied.
“The proposal to renovate the Fairgrounds starts off in a strong position,” says Hart Research CEO Fred Yang in Bristol’s press release. “This seems like a popular project, especially when the details are presented to the public.” The poll was conducted among both a countywide sample and a sample of neighbors surrounding the fairgrounds, where the speedway lies.
The deal, which won’t come before the Metro Council until July, has been more than two years in the making but now seems likely to show up as an election issue, particularly in the council districts around the fairgrounds.
In Hart Research’s analysis, the pollsters found that a 42 percent plurality of voters supports the proposal when given a barebones description of the deal. The analysis noted that as pollsters provided voters with details of the deal, the number of voters who supported Bristol Motor Speedway operating the speedway grew to two-thirds of the polling pool.
The memo also pointed out that a “vast majority of Nashvillians have little to no familiarity with the negotiations between Metro and Bristol to operate the Fairgrounds Speedway.” Hart Research added that “support for the Bristol proposal outpaces opposition in the current low information environment, which suggests Bristol likely has the upper hand in the upcoming debate.”
The lack of information by most of the participants — only 35 percent had some, a fair amount or a great deal of knowledge about the deal going into the poll — has left critics questioning its validity.
“How it was presented was strictly one-sided — I probably would have got the same results in opposition if I would have done [a poll],” says Shay Sapp, board president of South Action Nashville People. SNAP, the neighborhood association for Wedgewood-Houston, which borders the fairgrounds, has been highly critical of the deal. “There were a lot of people not familiar with the issue, which is exactly what the speedway people want. And then once they found out they weren’t familiar with the issue, they had an explanation or a scripted type speech that they gave them to explain it.”
A subsample of the poll surveyed 100 participants from neighboring communities, and of that group, 57 had not heard about “the partnership between Metro Government and Bristol Motor Speedway to renovate and operate the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.” Only 35 had heard some to a “great deal” about the speedway.
The poll also presented participants with arguments both for and against the proposal and found people more favorable toward the pro arguments. But Sapp, who said he is not against a racetrack deal as long as it is favorable to the city and the surrounding neighborhood, says he feels the poll misconstrues some of the concerns critics have.
While Sapp said he wants to encourage local regional racing — and he acknowledged the historic nature of the fairgrounds — a letter from SNAP details some of the guidelines for what they want to see in a deal. The letter included not bringing in NASCAR and concerns over the number of people a renovated speedway would bring into the neighborhood, along with some financial concerns over how the racetrack is being funded.
“The soccer team guaranteed their money when they built their stadium,” says Sapp. “The people who are doing this should be fully invested for the 30 years as well by backing it financially 100 percent. Otherwise, they have opportunities to just leave if it doesn’t go as planned, and that puts the neighborhood and the taxpayers in a worse off position.”
The Cooper administration confirmed that in a worst-case scenario — should the allotted revenues not cover the bonds — there is a backstop from the Metro general fund to complete the payments.
Also in the poll …
In the non-racing portion of the poll, Yang included a couple of questions relevant to Metro voters in the upcoming election.
The horserace portion of the poll found, among voters who either support or lean toward a particular candidate, Heidi Campbell had 12 percent, Matt Wiltshire had 11 percent, and Jeff Yarbro had 9 percent. With a margin of error of 5 percent, the race is wide open. But the bigger takeaway is that 41 percent of the likely voters who were polled have not made a decision. This is in line with a Public Policy Polling survey from earlier this week that showed 45 percent of the electorate undecided.
Yang also polled public opinion on the Titans stadium deal and found that 51 percent of likely voters oppose the $2.1 billion plan while 42 percent support it. The issue has come up repeatedly at mayoral forums and is likely to show up as an issue in some Metro Council races. Interestingly, 65 percent of those polled have a positive view of the Titans.
Mayor John Cooper has a 48 percent favorable rating with the electorate while 39 percent view him unfavorably and 13 percent are undecided.