On June 12, North Dakota voters will vote on a proposed constitutional amendment abolishing property taxes. Measure 2 is, without question, one of the most consequential policy questions that have been presented before state voters in more than two decades.
Supporters maintain that property taxes are too high, government is too intrusive and citizens should not be forced from their homes for failure to pay taxes. The argument about how much we pay in property taxes is not new; the argument against ‘intrusive government’ goes back well before our country’s founding. But the argument that citizens should not be forced from their homes would be compelling if there was a scintilla of truth to the charge. There’s not. But that’s not the point.
The ‘yes’ side doesn’t have to resort to facts. There’s little need for flow charts or graphs or complicated economic studies (all of which they will readily show you). All the supporters need is emotion and the bogeyman. And they know it. They have the messaging down pat: Property taxes too high? Vote yes on Measure 2. Don’t like big government? Vote yes on Measure 2. Don’t think granny should be kicked out of her home? Vote yes on Measure 2.
Few bogeymen are as menacing as ‘the government.’ Few things are as viscerally hated as ‘taxes’ (I personally hate MTV’s ‘The Jersey Shore’ more, and with the white hot intensity of a thousand burning suns, but that’s for another post). The point is Measure 2 supporters are already on second base at the start of this ball game because their issue pulls at emotion.
The opponents of Measure 2 have a harder challenge. Even though the facts are on their side (granny is not getting kicked out of her home), they have to counter with a more nuanced argument. They have to draw distinctions regarding local and state government. They have to explain what services property taxes actually pay for (public schools and libraries, police and fire protection, streets and sewer). In this battle of sound bites, it takes opponents upwards to sixty seconds to explain their position versus the supporters’ fifteen seconds.
In the fight for your vote, the battle being waged is targeted either at your gut (supporters) or your head (opponents). There are some issues that don’t fit nicely into fifteen-second sound bites. Measure 2 is one of them. North Dakota voters will do well to take note by carefully analyzing both the message and the messenger. Because, while it is said in every campaign, it is especially true in this one: The very future of North Dakota depends on it.
Jason Matthews is public relations director for KK BOLD. A certified political junkie, Jason is also our agency’s in-house keeper of historical anecdotes, analogies, and useless trivia.