More than two-thirds of California voters surveyed would support a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, but only if proceeds were earmarked for combating childhood obesity, according to a recent field poll.
The poll, conducted on behalf of the California Endowment, showed 68 percent of voters would endorse the idea of a tax on soda and other sugared soft drinks if funds went to improving school nutrition and physical activity programs.
But support dropped dramatically when no designations for the tax proceeds were specified. Only 40 percent of those surveyed would endorse a non-committal tax on sugared soft drinks.
Barstow City Councilman Rich Harpole said in a statement that he would oppose a soda tax, noting that Californians are already over-taxed.
"When the question was changed to using the tax for child nutrition," he wrote, "then approval increased. ... Most of us would do anything for our kids, and this is just another attempt to use our love for our children to convince the public to a new tax while pushing a social agenda."
Last year, voters in El Monte responded in kind: Soda tax Measure H failed to gain support from a quarter of voters, getting shot down by the wide margin of 77 to 23 percent.
While sizing up items in the soft drink aisle Friday at the Stater Bros. in Barstow, James O'Neil said he was a conditional proponent of a soda tax.
"It wouldn't really matter," he said, "as long as (proceeds are) going to a good cause. ... And the money doesn't go elsewhere."
O'Neil explained that he didn't regularly drink soda, but he did buy it for his children. A soda tax wouldn't alter his buying habits, he said.
Robert Jarvis was of a similar mindset.
"If (proceeds) went to (school health programs), I'd be perfectly OK with that."
Abraham Alssaf, who manages Quick Liquor in Barstow, wondered if a tax would affect his soda sales, but he quickly changed his view.
"Regardless if the price is higher or lower, if they want sugar, they're going to buy it," he said.
Legislation to introduce a tax on sugared soft drinks was nixed in Vermont on Friday.
The Field Poll was conducted by telephone on Oct. 17 to 24 and included responses from 1,184 registered California voters. Results of the poll were released Feb. 14.
View the results at www.field.com/fieldpollonline/subscribers/Rls2436.pdf.
Shea Johnson may be reached at (760) 256-4126 or at SJohnson@DesertDispatch.com.