FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fresno voters sent clear messages in support of coronavirus public health protection and police reform in a new survey conducted by a policy center at UC Merced.
Their polling showed huge financial impact from the pandemic -- especially among poorer voters -- and strong support for major police reform.
The recent discovery of toxic chemicals at the Maxie Park Community Center forced the city of Fresno to shut it down and may have exposed one reason the city's minority communities experience a higher death rate from the coronavirus.
"Zoning and land use policies have relegated industrial sites and toxic industries that again contribute to chronic diseases," said Dr. Venise Curry, a medical doctor, and coordinator of the Fresno County Civic Engagement Table. "They contribute to co-morbidity."
A new random phone survey of 2397 registered Fresno voters, conducted in August and September by Fresno County Civic Engagement Table and analyzed by UC Merced, showed the pandemic hit the pocketbooks of about half of Fresno.
But for the Black, Latino, and Asian-American communities, the loss of income was even more common.
"These numbers are absolutely high, said UC Merced professor, Dr. Edward Flores. "They're very concerning because the region already had the highest rates of poverty, the lowest income in the state."
Dr. Flores says the data points to the need for financial relief because COVID-19 has spread, in part, when poor people felt they had to go to work even when they got sick.
The survey showed people with higher incomes were less likely to be affected. The higher the income, the less likely the pandemic impacted family finances.
It also showed overwhelming support for public health measures like masks and social distancing. More than 92% said they wear face masks in public and more than 85% said they have avoided crowds. UC Merced analysts point out Fresno was at its worst stage of the pandemic when they conducted the survey.
Fresno voters -- in every city council district -- also overwhelmingly backed police reform. Council Member Garry Bredefeld's district, District 6 in north Fresno, gave the least support for elected officials advocating police reform at 71.6% while District 1, where the Council Member is Esmeralda Soria, showed the most support for police reform at 82.2%.
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In the city as a whole, almost 78% of people polled said they'd support elected officials who advocated for police reform, which came as something of a surprise to Maddy Institute executive director and ABC30 political analyst Mark Keppler, whom we asked to review the findings.
"The public absolutely makes a connection between economic opportunities and crime," he said. "The top two things they think public officials should be doing to address crime had to do with jobs for youth and prior offenders."
Additional funding for law enforcement was the fourth most common priority coming from 15.6% of people polled.
Organizers plan to conduct this type of survey regularly so elected leaders have good information about how voters really want their tax money spent.
"Too often in the past we've seen elected officials, and leaders who petition city government for the use of funding, using anecdotal evidence or in fact dismiss scientific evidence," said Pablo Rodriguez, executive director of the Communities for a New California Education Fund.
Organizers say they'll share the polling with leaders at City Hall and with the police reform commission, but the biggest impact of what they found could be seen at the ballot box.
They say the results point to record voter turnout between now and Election Day in three weeks.
Fresno voters strongly favor coronavirus protections and police reforms, survey shows