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A word of caution about the latest Siena poll on NY MMA legislation

By Zach Arnold | May 24, 2012

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On May 16th, Dr. Don Levy released information about the latest Siena poll (poll summary | crosstabs) which asked voters about MMA legislation in the state of New York. Here is how Dr. Levy phrased the two poll questions in the 5/16 poll:

Q36. Legalizing mixed martial arts – or MMA – in New York State. How much have you heard or read about it – a great deal, some, not very much, nothing at all?

Results: A great deal (8%), some (17%), not very much (22%), nothing at all (52%).

Q37. Do you support or oppose legalizing mixed martial arts – or MMA – in New York State?

Results: Support (32%), Oppose (26%), Don’t have enough information (38%), no opinion (4%).

If these results look wildly different than the results of polls in past years from Siena, there’s a good reason. Let’s review our April 13th item talking about a late March Siena poll on this subject. 38% support, 52% oppose.

So, what changed?

The question that was asked.

Lastly, there is an issue being debated in Albany whether or not New York should legalize mixed martial arts, known by some as cage fighting or ultimate fighting. Supporters say it should be legal in the state of New York. Mixed martial arts or MMA is already legal in many states and if legal here in New York would generate fan interest, direct revenues and would be an engine of economic development. Opponents say MMA is dangerous, even barbaric and we should not allow such a violent sport to be practiced here in New York. Do you side with the supporters of MMA or with the opponents?

The more detailed of a question asked by those polled in NY, the less likely they are to support MMA legislation. The more direct the poll question, the more ambivalence there is about the subject. You don’t go from a consistent 38% approve/52% disapprove to a 32% approve/26% disapprove/38% not enough information unless what is being asked has changed in tone.

In other words, the mood on the ground has not dramatically & wildly changed this much in two months.

Here’s Dr. Don Levy giving us a hint of where he comes from on the topic (hint: he’s a backer of MMA legislation in New York):

Thirty-two percent of voters support legalizing mixed martial arts (MMA) in New York State while 26 percent oppose and the largest group, 38 percent, says they would require more information before they could take a position. By an overwhelming margin, 62 to 9 percent, young voters are in favor while older New Yorkers oppose MMA by 38 to 12 percent. Men support MMA while women currently are split.

Surprisingly, only one in four voters say that they are following the MMA question with some or a great deal of interest. In fact, of eight issues, medical marijuana, fracking, minimum wage, synthetic marijuana, small business tax cuts, campaign finance reform, legislative pay raises and MMA, mixed martial arts scored lowest in the level of public interest. Of those following the issue however, support is high at fifty-six percent for and thirty-six percent opposed while the vast majority that are not currently interested in the question are split,” Levy notes.

That pretty much reveals everything you need to know about what this poll, as compared to the other Siena polls on the topic of MMA, was about. You don’t use the word ‘surprisingly’ to describe how unimportant NY MMA legislation is as a political topic for citizens in the state when there are so many more important political issues to care about. This is a bad case of tunnel-vision.

Compare the crosstabs of this 5/16 poll to the other Siena MMA polls. Two months ago, women were 26% approve versus 60% disapprove for MMA legislation. All of a sudden, those figures have changed to 24% support, 27% oppose, 46% not enough info?

I understand the point that this poll was trying to make — because a large chunk of New York citizens don’t know enough about the subject, therefore they should be persuadable in the future to be convinced to back MMA legislation in the state. That’s the NY MMA fan point of view.

However, I can easily flip that argument around and tell you that because the topic of MMA legislation in New York means so little to citizens of the State that it means the following:

1) There is not a big grassroots campaign to get MMA legislation passed in New York. The top-down UFC lobbyist strategy has utterly failed to rally any sort of public fanfare or groundswell of support.

2) There just isn’t enough people in the state who care about MMA to make it a top political priority in their lives.

If anything, I think it’s a damning argument point to make against UFC that, for all the cash they’ve burned in New York, they have not been able to educate a large portion of state residents and make the case directly to them. It’s an indictment on their New York political strategy in a big way.

No matter how you frame the poll questions and no matter how you try to present the poll data differently each time, the same two points I made up above are the points I’ve been hammering home about why Sheldon Silver has no political reason whatsoever to cave to pro-NY MMA legislation backers. The voters in the state don’t care about MMA legislation at all on a serious level. There’s zero political price for Sheldon Silver to pay for not getting an up-or-down vote on the Assembly floor for such legislation. No matter how you slice the poll data, the same trends exist and will continue to stay the same barring a dramatic change in political strategy by MMA activists in the state and also by the UFC.

A final word of (friendly) advice to Dr. Don Levy — please be consistent in terms of the MMA-related questions you ask in polls. Don’t set yourself up for accusations of push-polling here.

I understand that those of you who back NY MMA legislation are deeply passionate about the subject — and I respect that. However, your job in making your dream a reality is about genuinely stirring up emotion in the state electorate to back your political aspirations. Focus more on that and give the politicians a reason why backing your political aspirations will help keep their political aspirations alive.

Topics: All Topics, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 5 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

5 Responses to “A word of caution about the latest Siena poll on NY MMA legislation”

  1. Weezy says:

    Still an interesting development. Before, the only polling evidence that existed indicated disapproval. Now the issue appears far more uncertain. How many people were polled in each of the two instances?

  2. Ditch says:

    Agreed that the lack of interest in the issue exposes UFC’s efforts. Disagreed that the poll can essentially be dismissed; it exposes that the bulk of disagreement comes from those who don’t know anything about it. This being NY, the default public position is “everything that is not expressly permitted is prohibited”.

    So, the public is persuadable, but it will be a tough slog that will get easier over time.

  3. fd2 says:

    Zach, if you think a groundswell of popular support for mma in New York would actually make Sheldon Silver pay a political price, you are hopelessly naive to the way districting and party politics works in new york.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      You need public support + cash to make the needle move politically.

      Right now, I’ve yet to see that combination in effect here to make Sheldon Silver change his mind.

      • fd says:

        “You need public support + cash to make the needle move politically.”

        No, you don’t, particularly not at the state level. Tons of things get passed without public support, even explicitly against public support. Again, you really do not understand how state-level party politics works.

        Sheldon Silver is in one of the safest Democratic districts in NYC and has been re-elected for over thirty years. Over the course of his career he has introduced and voted for numerous pieces of legislation that not only did not have public support, but for which there existed significant public pressure against. If Silver does not want MMA legislation to come up for a vote, the odds of public pressure forcing him to do so is incredibly remote.

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