Poll: Voters want Islanders, not the tab

Islanders owner Charles Wang sat down with Newsday to express his concern over the deterioration of the Nassau Coliseum and how approval of the Aug. 1 referendum would help Long Island prosper.

A majority of Nassau County residents want to keep the Islanders on Long Island and support building a new Coliseum, but they oppose using tax dollars to pay for the project, according to a new Newsday/Siena Research Institute poll.

Fifty-one percent of 620 registered Nassau County voters questioned July 14 though 19 said they opposed the proposal, and 36 percent signaled their support. Meanwhile, 12 percent had not made up their minds or did not have an opinion.

Less than a third of voters said they had been given enough information about the plan to make a decision.

"Voters want their cake and they want to eat it, too," said Siena pollster Steven Greenberg.

The poll, which has a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points, is a snapshot of voter sentiment about the Aug. 1 referendum on a $400-million bond issue to build an arena and a minor-league baseball park. The survey was completed before the final barrage of campaigning, including a push by labor unions.

"We have done many polls that indicate quite the opposite," said Islanders senior vice president Michael Picker. "The misinformation generated by the politicians and even some of the media reporting has caused confusion to the residents. When the facts are presented and people understand that the project will pay for itself and then some, jobs and revenue will not be lost and this project will be an economic catalyst, they become supporters."

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said polls can be deceiving. "During my election, Newsday reported poll results indicating I was 26 points behind my opponent," he said in a statement. "Clearly, I have more faith in people than I do in poll results. The only poll that matters is on Election Day when residents decide whether they want to invest in the future of our county by creating thousands of jobs and generating millions in tax relief. We will see what the people say on Aug. 1."

Two thirds of voters agreed that the county should do everything in its power to keep the Islanders in Nassau. An even greater majority -- 74 percent -- believe that redeveloping the hub area will improve the county's economy and provide much-needed construction jobs.

"It will create jobs, and I'm for that," said Lewis Collins, 69, of Elmont. "That's good for everybody."

But only 13 percent of those polled agreed with publicly financing a new arena, while just over a third said the facilities would pay for themselves through a revenue-sharing agreement between the county and the Islanders. Sixty-two percent of voters said they would be left paying $50 to $60 in additional property taxes.

"Whenever the government has taken over such payments, it has never been paid back," said Myron Katz, 83, of Lynbrook, a retired stockbroker. "Private money is logical."

Forty-nine percent of registered Republicans -- Mangano's party -- said they would vote no, as did 44 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents.

Meanwhile, even though 80 percent of respondents indicated they would vote on Aug. 1, Greenberg suggested turnout would likely be very low, around 10 percent to 15 percent, partly because of the timing on a Monday in August and the fact that it's a single-issue election.

Islanders owner Charles Wang previously tried to finance a new arena as part of his unsuccessful $3.8 billion Lighthouse Project. The Islanders will move when the team's lease expires in 2015 if a new arena is not built. County officials contend that without the Islanders, the Coliseum will be shuttered and tax revenue will be lost.

Greenberg said that as a typical practice, Siena asks a core question the first time to get an initial reaction and then sees how that opinion changed after respondents are presented with additional questions on the same subject. When Siena did that in this poll, asking questions such as the importance of keeping the Islanders, the financing of other stadiums with private funds, the state of the economy and whether voters thought they would have to pay more taxes, opposition grew to 59 percent versus support from 32 percent.

Backing for the plan does not reach a majority among males or voters younger than 55 -- a target base for an arena that is home to a professional hockey team and dozens of family events such as the circus and "Disney on Ice."

Fifty-two percent of those polled were older than 55, reflecting the composition of Nassau voters. Forty-six percent were men and 54 percent were women.

"The ability to identify and target [young] supporters and get them out to the polls will be critical," Greenberg said. "It's about the get-out-the-vote operation."

With Sid Cassese

Newsday/Siena July 2011 poll

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