The result of
the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll on the Amazon tax issue
reminds me of the famous headline when Harvard’s undefeated football team made
an incredible comeback from a huge deficit in the final minute of a game to tie
arch rival and undefeated Yale. The Harvard
newspaper ran a headline: Harvard Beats Yale

The poll has the pubic split at this point on the question whether online
retailers should collect sales tax as in-state retailers do. 46% support the
bill signed by the governor requiring the tax collection while 49% oppose it.

Like the two undefeated Ivy League teams of 1968, powerful opponents will
square off against each other over the referendum if it makes the ballot.
Deep-pocketed online retailers like Amazon will be battling big chain stores
like WalMart.

Looking over the close poll numbers and big time opponents, Dan Schnur,
director of both the poll and Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, said, "This
could be one of the most expensive campaigns in California history, and neither
side starts with a clear advantage."

However, even though the poll numbers indicate the measure is even within the
margin of error, I think Amazon is ahead because it does have an advantage. The
advantage comes in the way a referendum question is presented to voters.

The voters will be asked if they want the new law requiring online sellers to
collect sales taxes to remain in effect. A "Yes" vote means keep the tax law in
place, a "No" vote means repeal it. However, unless that is made perfectly
clear during a campaign, there is a tendency for voters dealing with referendums
to decide if they are FOR or AGAINST the idea of a particular referendum. In
this case, if they are AGAINST having a referendum on the Amazon tax law, they
might vote NO thinking they are rejecting the referendum that challenged the
law. In actuality, a NO vote overturns the law.

In addition, the poll showed another advantage for the Amazon side. While 82%
of the respondents said they did little or no shopping online, they, too, were
pretty evenly split on having online sellers collect the sales tax, 48% for the
law to 45% against. It has often been stated that voters will willingly vote to
raise taxes they do not have to pay themselves but that doesn’t seem to be the
case in this instance.


Finally, when
voters are uncertain or confused about a measure — and there is a good
possibility that could happen for many voters with this referendum — they tend
to vote "No."

As Schnur suggests, the battle over the Amazon tax will be monumental. But, as
the two sides start out technically even, the online sellers are a step ahead.

More on the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll here.