Guest Column - March 2011
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Moving Beyond Political Ideology in the Budget Battle

By Dr. David N. Emanuelson

What leisure service professionals need to do is to remind their representatives that leisure services are just as important as any other public service. If federal, state and local professionals are willing to lobby on their own behalf, it's likely that federal, state and local elected officials will comply with the will of the people.

How is this done? By employing the same political polling techniques as other public policy analysts do. At all levels, including the local level, political polling is a simple and inexpensive technique that allows elected officials to know the will of the public and to act in a democratic way, serving the will of their constituents.

Polling can be done through traditional techniques such as mail or telephone polls. Leisure service professionals have used community needs assessment surveys to construct their comprehensive master plans for decades, asking questions about participation in leisure activities or the usage of leisure facilities. What they usually fail to do, though, is ask the tough questions—the ones about supporting initiatives or increasing their taxes.

In 2009, in a fiscally conservative rural Midwestern community of 13,000 people, the administrators of the local governmental unit did just that. Conducting a telephone poll of community members about the construction of a new recreation center, something fiscal conservatives on their board opposed, the leisure service agency found more people supported the initiative than opposed it, 45 percent compared with 36 percent. (See Figure 1.)

In 2009, in a fiscally conservative Midwestern suburban community, leisure service administrators asked combined mail and telephone survey respondents if they would increase their own property tax payments to build a new recreation center. More people said they would than not, 49 percent compared with 31 percent. (See Figure 2.)

Considering that these polls were conducted at the height of the "Great Recession" of 2009, they reflect the willingness of the public in some of the most fiscally conservative areas of the nation to increase their services as well as the taxes to pay for them.

Providing elected officials with this type of information allows them to make policy decisions that reflect will of the people. While these polls have been conducted for capital projects, they can also be conducted comparing the importance of leisure services to other services.

When they are, leisure service professionals and elected officials come away knowing the importance of parks and recreation at the federal, state and local levels. When there is no information about the importance of leisure services, elected officials are left with their political ideologies to guide them.


Dr. David Emanuelson is Assistant Professor of Recreation Administration at Aurora University, George Williams Campus, Williams Bay, Wis., a partner in the Public Research Group and the owner of Impact Planning.