‘Doesn’t cut it’: Lack of transparency in Clay County survey on tax for Kansas City Royals damages poll’s credibility, observers argue

Local media this week dutifully reported results of a poll showing Clay County voters oppose a sales tax to support a move there by the Kansas City Royals. But where did the poll come from?

Nobody seems to know.

“Bold Decision declined to say who paid for the survey, citing company policy, but verified its authenticity Monday,” news reports have said, referring to the pollster.

That may call the results into question for many, given that the financier of a public poll may have a particular point of view, a preferred result, or even a dog in the fight.

“Well, of course you can make a poll say anything to get results,” says former Northland KC Councilwoman Teresa Loar, who favors a stadium north of the river. “And my guess is this poll in particular would probably be skewed for a specific venue” – in other words, downtown Kansas City, in Jackson County.

The anonymity of a poll’s source isn’t disqualifying, says Patrick Ishmael, director of government accountability at Missouri’s Show-Me Institute free-market think tank. It’s the poll-starters’ right to remain secret, he says – though adding the lack of transparency damages a poll’s credibility.

Without transparency, it’s hard to tell what the truth actually is, he says.

“The truth is the truth even if the source is anonymous,” Ishmael tells The Heartlander in an email, “but greater transparency in all other aspects is required to come to that conclusion.

“An unknown speaker announcing a black box of data doesn’t cut it.”

The survey of 300 Clay County voters by Bold Decision, an East Coast polling firm, says almost half favor a ballpark and amenities in North Kansas City, while 60% oppose the other proposed site in Kansas City’s East Village, which is in Jackson County.

Yet the poll found 70% would oppose a new sales tax to support it.

Loar notes the question asked – “Would you support or oppose a new sales tax in Clay County to help fund construction of a new multibillion-dollar stadium and mixed-use development?” – is careful to say the tax would be in Clay County, but does not say where the stadium would be.

Some respondents, she says, may have envisioned a tax in Clay County for a stadium in Jackson County.

“I think if you did a poll saying we’re going to put (the stadium complex) in North Kansas City, I think the results would be entirely different,” she says.

“I think the stadium would be perfect for North Kansas City. I think there are a number of reasons. Number one, the financial piece probably works better in North Kansas City. The crime piece, specifically, works better in North Kansas City. I just think location-wise, as far as building entertainment around it, housing, etc., it works better in North Kansas City. 

“I think crime alone on the east side would be horrendous for the Royals and anybody else wanting to make any money.”

The Heartlander managed to track Bold Decision’s various iterations and clients to Jersey City, New Jersey, where the public was asked some years ago to vote on a proposed payroll tax. Perhaps coincidentally, current KC City Manager Brian Platt held that same position in Jersey City.

Platt did not respond to The Heartlander’s questions over any potential involvement with Bold Decision or the Clay County poll. After at least one other city spokesperson was apparently sent the questions internally, city manager press secretary Sherae Honeycutt wrote to The Heartlander, “The City of Kansas City does not engage in political activity. City Hall nor the City Manager had any involvement in the poll.”

A spokesperson for the Royals declined comment. But speaking to another outlet, team Executive Vice President Sarah Tourville questioned the poll’s reliability – citing its anonymity.

“We aren’t sure who commissioned that poll,” Tourville said. “What I can tell you is we’ve assembled a team of national and local experts with sophisticated polling experience. That polling data has been very constructive, and we can see a path to victory in both counties.”


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