Poll: Beach Voters Looking for Change

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Fort Myers Beach voters overwhelmingly support downtown redevelopment including Times Square revitalization, completion of the Estero Blvd stormwater project, Bay Oaks and updating the Comprehensive Plan according to a recent poll of beach voters.

In late February a live telephone survey of 276 Fort Myers Beach registered voters was conducted by Civility Management, LLC of Orlando on behalf of the Estero Island Taxpayers Association (EITA). Voters were identified by using the Florida Vote File provided by the Florida Division of Elections. Only voters with telephone numbers in Fort Myers Beach precincts were selected.

Executive Director of the EITA Beverley Milligan shared the poll data and preliminary conclusion that the EITA was on the right track.

“It is safe to say the majority of voting taxpayers want exactly the same as what all taxpayers want for Estero Island. (This poll) confirms we really do speak as one voice for all taxpayers.”

EITA launched in November 2016 with several primary principles including the promotion of economic growth through tourism, revitalization of infrastructure and downtown, “skinny” government and natural resource protection. The EITA was founded on the principle that all taxpayers – voters, snowbirds and businesses are invested in the well-being of the island and should be represented at the town level and that a shared voice will make the island stronger at the county, state and federal levels.

 Poll Results

Eighteen questions were asked in phone surveys conducted from February 21-25, 2017 and some interesting trends emerged. Any results that do not total 100% reflect the percentage of respondents who chose not to answer that question. The range of no opinion/no response ranged from 1.1% to 27.2%.

74.3% of respondents believe that Fort Myers Beach is a shared community consisting of tourists, families and retirees. 15.9% listed it as only a tourist destination, while 5.4% listed it primarily as a retirement destination and 3.3% listed the community as a family community.

The biggest issue facing the Town? 40.9% said ‘traffic’ but 47.5% said completion of storm water on Estero Blvd. Loss of downtown business came in at 5.4% and ‘too many tourists’ and ‘not enough tourists’ both drew 1.4% of responses.

Tourism promotion is important to voters in the poll with 35.9% saying more promotion should be done and 35.1% saying that the status quo is fine. 23.9% want less tourism promotion.

Voters in the poll want more parking in the downtown area. A total of 77.5% said they either strongly support or somewhat support more parking, while 14.8% strongly or somewhat oppose more downtown parking.

Downtown Redevelopment

There were several questions related to downtown development on the poll. One asked whether the voter supported or opposed the development of downtown. 69.9% strongly or somewhat supported development while 19.2% somewhat or strongly opposed it.

When asked what kind of development they’d like to see 19,2% said it’s fine the way it is, while 6.5% would prefer residential development. 30.8% chose ‘large scale tourist resort with additional shops and restaurants’ and 34.4% would like open space with parks and beach access.

A sea wall that would protect Times Square in a hurricane drew mixed responses. 51.1% strongly or somewhat supported a sea wall, while 37.6% strongly or somewhat opposed one.

A follow up question asking if the voter would be more or less likely to support a sea wall if it would lower the cost of flood insurance premiums, 57.7% strongly or somewhat supported and 28.6% strongly or somewhat opposed.

Voters were asked if they supported or opposed allowing additional density on the bay side of Estero Blvd to achieve a more open, beach-like view corridor with public interactive restaurant and entertainment venues. 54.7% strongly supported the concept; 21.7% somewhat supported it, while 10.1% somewhat opposed it and 22.1% strongly opposed it.

The poll asked voters to consider the character of other tourist communities and pick which style or branding best fit Fort Myers Beach? ‘None’ came in first with 32.2% of the vote; Margaritaville came in second with 23.2% and Sandals Resort came in third with 13.0%. Hilton/Hyatt/Marriott, Hard Rock and Holiday Inn each drew less than 10%.

Revitalization of Times Square is important according to the poll, with 74.6% strongly or somewhat supporting revitalization and just 14.5% strongly or somewhat opposing it.

When asked if they supported or opposed Town Council’s recent decision to remove pubic restrooms on Palm Ave., 38.8% strongly opposed it, with another 12.0% somewhat opposed. 14.9% strongly supported the decision, with 7.2% somewhat supported it.

The poll also reflected strong support of town funding of Bay Oaks Recreation Center with 80% supporting funding with 10.5% opposed.

The Estero Blvd Storm Water project is strongly supported by island voters according to the poll. 67.4% strongly support completion of the project; another 18.5% somewhat support completion, while only 7.6% are strongly or somewhat opposed to completion of the project.

Town Government

Another group of questions dealt with Town government. One asked voters if they believed the Town was heading in the right or wrong direction? 30.1% answered right; 19.9% somewhat right. 14.9% chose somewhat wrong and 19.9% chose wrong.

Town Council performance was also weighed. Keep in mind this poll was taken prior to the March 7 election. 26.1% said council was moving in the wrong direction with 17% saying somewhat wrong. 16.7% chose right direction with another 20.3% choosing somewhat right.

A whopping 78.3% said that the Town’s Comprehensive Plan, nearly 20 years old, needs to be updated, with 50% saying they strongly supported updating it and another 28.3% somewhat supporting an update. 8.7% strongly opposed an update with 5.4% somewhat opposing an update.

As with many polls that ask voters whether they plan to vote, participants in this poll overwhelming (93.1%) said they had either already voted or planned to vote in the March 7th election. The actual turnout was 40.13%. Civility Management and other polling groups indicate that people regularly report voter participation or charitable contributions in higher proportion than actual data indicates is true out of a desire to appear socially or “politically” correct.

Milligan addressed a criticism that has been leveled at the EITA. “There is a small, but vocal population on the island that says voters want something different from what EITA wants, but we will not be dissuaded by a handful of people who clearly do not represent the majority of voters on the island. EITA will continue to speak up for all voters.”

Voter Demographics

The EITA poll reflected the age demographics of Island voters. The Lee County Elections Office recently released demographic data on Island voters registered as of early February. 50.7% of registered voters are female; 48.3% are male. Republicans make up 50.6% of registered voters in the Town with 21.9% being registered Democrats and 27.5% registered with other parties or No Party Affiliation.

A large majority of registered voters here are, well, older. 65.6% of registered voters in the Town of Fort Myers Beach are over the age of 60; 17.5% are 51-60 years old; 7.1% are ages 41-50; 4.1% are ages 31-40 and 5.8% ages 18-30.

The EITA poll above mirrored that age distribution with a slight over representation of the over 61 demographic (73.6%) and under representation of younger age groups: 13.8% of poll respondents were ages 51-60; 6.7% were 41-50; 1.8% were 31-40 and 3.9% were ages 18-30. The poll was split 50/50 male/female respondents. The polling organization stated that while telephone surveys give a “reasonably accurate picture of opinions at a specific moment in time,” they can be affected by unlisted numbers, those with only cell phones and those with call-blocking technology. This may explain the under representation of younger age groups in telephone polls. The margin of error for this poll was 5.9% according to Civility Management.

For more information about the poll or the EITA, contact Beverley Milligan at esteroislandta@gmail.com. For additional voter demographics information visit www.lee.vote.

 

Missy Layfield