Nearly 30% of registered voters in San Antonio have not decided if they are in favor of stripping the local police union of its right to collectively bargain for a labor contract, according to a recent survey.

Ahead of the May 1 election, 39% of those surveyed in the latest nonpartisan KSAT/San Antonio Report/Bexar Facts poll said they would vote no on Proposition B and reject an activist-led effort to repeal collective bargaining for local cops, according to poll results released on Tuesday. Meanwhile, 34% of survey participants said they would vote yes.

That leaves 28% of respondents undecided – representing a significant opportunity for both sides of the issue to gain ground with voters.

“Prop B is … completely wide open,” Bexar Facts pollster David Metz said. “But note that only one-third of voters have a strong feeling either way.”

Only 12% of registered voters surveyed said they would “definitely” vote for Prop B while 22% said they would definitely vote against it.

Early voting for the general election will take place April 19-27.

Some of that voter hesitancy may be due to the complex nature and language of the proposition, said Metz, a partner of the FM3 Research firm hired to carry out the scientific poll.

“If you read the language of the measure … it’s pretty hard to wade through if you are not familiar with this issue,” he said. “It’s hard to understand the consequences of a yes vote versus a no vote.”

The ballot measure reads:

“Repeal of the adoption of the state law applicable to City of San Antonio police officers that  establishes collective bargaining if a majority of the affected employees favor  representation by an employees association, preserves the prohibition against strikes and  lockouts, and provides penalties for strikes and lockouts.”

Fix SAPD, a police reform group that got Prop B on the ballot, says that the collective bargaining process is flawed and the resulting contract provisions allow cops fired for misconduct to get back on the force. If approved by voters, Prop B would repeal Chapter 174 of the Texas Local Government Code and halt current contract negotiations. Union leaders say a repeal would result in fewer protections and benefits for police officers that would lead to a reduction of the workforce.

Similar calls for police reforms have taken place in cities across the country, many building on the momentum gathered during a summer of protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. In San Antonio, disciplinary issues were at the heart of protests in 2016, when City Council approved a contract that maintained those rules. Changing the status quo is the City’s top priority during current negotiations, and the police union has argued that collective bargaining is the best way to achieve reform.

On April 8, the KSAT/San Antonio Report/Bexar Facts partnership will host a discussion about Proposition B with leaders within the union, City of San Antonio attorney, and Fix SAPD, the police reform group that petitioned to get Prop B on the ballot.

Republican voters are, as expected, more likely (53%) to vote against the measure while Democrats are more likely to vote in favor (41%), but “the lines are not very stark,” Metz noted.

“This is one [issue] where I would expect these numbers to move substantially over the course of the campaign,” he said. “There’s enough undecideds to push this in either direction.”

Voters of color – which include those who identify as Black, Latino, or Asian – are also split on the issue: 28% were against the measure, 36% were in favor, and 26% were undecided.

The poll surveyed 618 registered voters in Bexar County via telephone interviews and online surveys in English and Spanish between March 23-29. The margin of error is plus or minus 4%. Registered voters are more likely to vote, skew more affluent, are more likely to own a home than rent one, and are generally whiter than the general population, Metz noted. Click here to explore the survey’s methodology.

Meanwhile, both Fix SAPD and the police union continue to grow their respective campaign budgets to win over voters.

Between Jan. 1 and March 22, Fix SAPD gathered more than $245,000 in contributions and spent about $145,000, according to the most recent report filed with the city clerk last week. It has more than $87,000 on hand to spend before the May 1 election. 

The police union’s political action committee (PAC) had more than $98,000 on hand, according to a report filed with the Texas Ethics Commission on Thursday. It spent $43,310 between Feb. 26 to March 25 and raised nearly $28,000 during that period.

“At this point, going into early voting … that difference of cash is not going to give anybody a lead one way or another,” Demonte Alexander, director of external affairs for Bexar Facts, said last week. “Right now it’s about who’s the most organized.”

Compared to the September 2020 Bexar Facts poll, views of the the San Antonio Police Officers Association have gotten slightly more positive. When asked if they approved or disapproved of the job the police union was doing in March, 63% of registered voters said they strongly or somewhat approved compared to 55% in September.

Voters have become less likely to agree that police unions have been a barrier to police accountability or that funds should be reallocated toward such resources as mental health or substance abuse treatment programs, Metz said.

In September, after months of protests and civil unrest in the wake of Floyd’s death, 51% of those surveyed said they agreed that police funds should be reallocated, and 65% agreed that police unions have been a barrier. In March, those numbers fell to just 40% who support re-allocation and 58% who agree the union has gotten in the way of holding police officers accountable for misconduct.

“Instead of a slim majority, it’s now a minority – it’s still 2 [out of] 5 who want to revisit the way that police [funds] are allocated,” Metz said.

As part of a months-long review of how the City of San Antonio views public safety and spending on police, the City launched its own scientific survey of residents in February. The results are available online here.

More than half of the residents surveyed thought the police department should share the responsibility or serve in a “backup” role in responding to more than a dozen types of 911 calls. Those calls include well-being or mental health checks that don’t involve a weapon, graffiti, parking violations, public health order enforcement, animal-related issues, and fireworks.

The survey, conducted by ETC Institute, found that more than 70% of residents were satisfied with SAPD’s work and nearly 80% felt safe or very safe in their neighborhoods during the day. However, fewer than half of District 3 and 4 residents, which includes the South and Southwest sides of the city, said they felt safe in their neighborhoods at night.

More than 56% of residents said they wanted to see more police in their neighborhoods.

ETC Institute received 1,150 responses from random households in the city, for a margin of error of at least plus or minus 2.8%.

Higher up the ballot, the Bexar Facts poll shows that voter support for Proposition A, which would expand the use of municipal bond money to include affordable housing projects and any other “public purpose,” is much clearer.

Fifty-six percent of voters surveyed said they would lean toward a vote in favor of Prop A, while 27% said they were against it to some degree. Only 17% were undecided.

The partisan divide on Prop A was also stark: 78% of Democrats were in favor of the measure compared to only 32% of Republicans.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org