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Poll: Majority in state support fully privatizing wine, spirit sales

| Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, 2:15 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Millions of dollars in lobbying efforts by groups on all sides of the liquor privatization issue had little impact on the opinions of everyday Pennsylvanians, according to two groups that released a poll Tuesday.

About two-thirds support fully privatizing the sale of wine and spirits, a figure that has remained virtually unchanged over the past nine months.

The survey of 1,151 residents found that support for a comprehensive privatization plan that would eliminate state control of wholesale and retail sales of alcohol cut across political parties, gender, age and geographic region.

“What people want is to save time, to save money and to save hassles (in) their own personal lives,” said Jennifer Airey, partner at Heart+Mind Strategies, the Washington-based firm that conducted the poll between Sept. 3 and 12.

The survey, co-sponsored by the conservative Commonwealth Foundation and the liberal Keystone Politics, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

“Since January, the opponents of privatization have spent a lot of money … messaging voters through media (on) why they think this is a bad idea,” said Jon Geeting, of Keystone Politics. “All that really has not moved the dial at all in terms of whether voters want this just as much as they ever have.”

Geeting said people aren't buying the argument that states where liquor sales are privatized are “turning into lawless hell-scapes just because people are allowed to buy a six-pack at a gas station.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents thousands of state store clerks, has spent more than $1 million on a dozen anti-privatization commercials over the past three years, said Wendell W. Young IV, president of UFCW of Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits Council.

Young said the union's efforts have been successful at educating residents by rebutting the “misinformation” put forth by privatization supporters.

“The more people have had this (issue) put in front of them over and over again, the more they've learned about the system,” Young said. “They're taking a second look around the (state wine and spirits) stores. ... They're finding out, ‘Wow, Pennsylvania is pretty good.' ”

Young contends other polls have shown support for privatization is waning.

In the poll released Tuesday, however, 70 percent of Republicans and independents and 54 percent of Democrats said they favor privatizing alcohol sales.

While many polls show a majority favor privatization, it isn't at the top of voters' list of concerns, said G. Terry Madonna, pollster and political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College.

“Whenever you get to measuring intensity, it does not measure high on the intensity scale,” Madonna said. “Voters support it, but it's not something they care deeply about.”

Gov. Tom Corbett, aRepublican, has made liquor privatization a focus of his administration, but efforts have faltered in the GOP-controlled General Assembly.

The latest push saw competing privatization plans in the House and Senate this summer, but none made it to Corbett's desk.

The new poll found 66 percent oppose the idea of giving beer distributors exclusive rights to sell wine and spirits.

A plan to allow liquor licensees, such as hotels, restaurants and beer distributors, to sell wine and spirits was floated in the state Senate in June.

Eric Shirk, a spokesman for Corbett, said the administration “will continue working with the Legislature during this session” on a privatization bill.

“Gov. Corbett agrees with the overwhelmingmajority of Pennsylvanians who want the same choice and convenience available in 48 other states,” he said.

Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said they are satisfied with the current retail options for buying wine and spirits, but nearly half of that group said they still would prefer to have private retailers sell wine and liquor.

Thirty-nine percent of those who are satisfied with the state store system would like to keep the system as-is.

“This is an economic issue,” Airey said. “We're not going to satisfy people in Pennsylvania with talks of modernizing stores. This is far more about being able to have freedom of choice, access and the ability to save money not only for themselves but also for the state.”

Fifty-five percent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a state legislator who supports privatization compared to 32 percent who said they would be less likely.

Kari Andren is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or

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