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WBUR Poll: Bostonians Back City's Pursuit Of Amazon's 2nd Headquarters

In this April 27 file photo, construction continues on three large domes as part of an expansion of the Amazon campus in downtown Seattle. Amazon has said it will spend more than $5 billion to build another headquarters in North America to house as many as 50,000 employees. (Elaine Thompson/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
In this April 27 file photo, construction continues on three large domes as part of an expansion of the Amazon campus in downtown Seattle. Amazon has said it will spend more than $5 billion to build another headquarters in North America to house as many as 50,000 employees. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Boston residents overwhelmingly approve of the city's bid for Amazon's second headquarters, but they want the bid to be made public, and they're split on whether the company should get tax incentives from the city and state.

In a WBUR poll of 405 likely voters in Boston (toplinecrosstabs), 66 percent said they approve of the city's effort to lure the online retail giant to town, while 20 percent disapprove of the effort.

Support for Boston's Amazon bid was strong across all ages, races, income levels and neighborhoods surveyed.

"They could be amazing partners for us," said poll respondent Ana Impellizeri, a 51-year-old interior designer in West Roxbury.

Impellizeri said if Amazon comes to Boston, she would want the company to invest in Boston Public Schools and train young people for jobs.

"So yeah sure, Amazon, come in, make Boston sexier, but I would like the benefits for the local people," Impellizeri said.

(The MassINC Polling Group)
(The MassINC Polling Group)

Cities and states across the country, including Boston, are clamoring for Amazon's second headquarters after the company put out a call for proposals last month. The Seattle-based online retail giant has given cities an October 19 deadline to submit bids.

In follow-up interviews, many poll respondents said they see potential economic benefits of bringing Amazon to Boston, namely jobs, community investments and possibly infrastructure improvements.

This is in stark contrast to how people in the Boston area felt in 2015 about the city's Olympics bid (remember Boston 2024?). According to the new WBUR poll, 65 percent of people who thought the Olympics would have been bad for Boston want the city to now pursue Amazon.

Donald Scott, a 53-year-old mechanic in the South End, is one of those people.

"The Olympics were to come for how many weeks? Then when it's gone, it's gone," Scott said. "Then the whole city turns upside down ridiculously and it's a disaster. No, no, no. I'm glad that didn't happen. I'm extremely glad."

But Scott sees the potential benefits of Amazon.

"If Amazon's coming in and they're creating jobs and they're going to be here and a person can go and earn an honest living working for them, yeah, I can see that," Scott said.

Only 24 percent of people polled who thought the Olympics would have been bad for Boston disapprove of the Amazon bid.

Steve Koczela of the MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the WBUR poll, said Boston residents feel there's more in it for them with Amazon than there was with the Olympics.

"Amazon has a clear jobs number, the jobs are permanent, they're high paying [and] they're going to be wherever this new headquarters is," Kozcela said. "It's not something where it's short-term or temporary, which was always one of the questions about the Olympics."

Another issue with the Olympics was transparency. Mayor Marty Walsh has said he plans to keep the city's Amazon bid secret until after the submission deadline. But Boston residents want to see the details. According to the WBUR poll, 59 percent want the city's Amazon bid made public while 31 percent said the bid should be kept secret.

Koczela said the strong preference for transparency shows "unmistakable echoes of the Olympic proposal."

He added that Boston residents "really aren't buying the explanation" that the documents should be kept private for competitive reasons.

And much of that has to do with wanting to know exactly what the city is offering Amazon to come here.

"If they're going to be giving them incentives with our tax money, we need to know," said Impellizeri, the interior designer. "In a way, it's like we're the investors. So I think we need to know."

According to the WBUR poll, Bostonians are evenly split on whether the city and state should offer Amazon tax incentives — 45 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove.

There's a similar breakdown regarding the nearly $150 million in tax incentives the city and state gave GE to move its global headquarters to Boston. In the new poll, 39 percent approve of the GE tax incentives and 36 percent disapprove of them.

There are some clear demographic divides when it comes to offering Amazon tax incentives.

For example, those who make over $150,000 a year had the strongest level of support (63 percent) for giving Amazon tax incentives to come to Boston. And support for tax incentives is mixed among those who earn less.

(The MassINC Polling Group)
(The MassINC Polling Group)

Matthew Delisle, a 41-year-old chef in Charlestown, said he has no problem with the city and state giving Amazon tax incentives. He thinks in the long-run it would be "good for the overall economy."

"Those big companies are going to bring a lot more than just jobs," Delisle said. "They're going to bring investment in the arts, they're going to bring investment in infrastructure, investment in real estate, and then all the people that work for them are going to invest in their own neighborhoods. So I think in that big picture kind of look it definitely works out."

Support for giving Amazon tax incentives also varies by neighborhood. Just 38 percent of residents surveyed in Roxbury, Mattapan, Hyde Park and Dorchester approve of giving Amazon tax incentives, compared with 56 percent of residents in East Boston, Charlestown and South Boston. Sentiments on the tax breaks GE got were similar in all of these communities.

There are also differing views on tax breaks across racial lines. African-Americans disapprove of tax incentives for Amazon the most: 53 disapprove, while only 37 percent approve.

Ayana Cole, a 36-year-old community health worker in Dorchester, said she's not OK with giving Amazon tax incentives. In the poll, she indicated that she disapproves of the city's Amazon bid but said she has mixed feelings now. She's very concerned about housing. And she doesn't think Amazon should get tax incentives because the company may drive up housing costs and "contribute to the gentrification of Boston."

"I was born and raised in Boston and went to [the] Boston public school system, and here it is I can't afford to buy a home in my own neighborhood," Cole said. "I'm completely priced out, thanks to people coming from GE or if Amazon wins their bid who are coming in with their nice six-figure-salary jobs and can spend a lot more than I can afford to spend on a house."

In results released Wednesday, the WBUR poll found that housing costs is the top issue for Boston voters. In Seattle, where Amazon is headquartered, housing prices and rents have skyrocketed.

Jared Steinberg, 33 of South Boston, said Amazon bringing tens of thousands of jobs to Boston would be good for people who own real estate. He approves of the Amazon bid, but is worried about congestion and overdevelopment.

"It seems like they're just building and building and building. In South Boston, for example, I knew they were going to build a lot here, but I didn't realize they were going to literally build on every square inch of land here. It's gotten so out of control," Steinberg said. "So I have a feeling that if [Amazon] were to come here, it would definitely congest the city even more in terms of there being more people here, more cars, and it would be harder to find parking."

There are also political divides over Amazon. The WBUR poll comes a month before Boston's mayoral election. Supporters of Mayor Walsh were more likely to support tax incentives than backers of his opponent, City Councilor Tito Jackson. Supporters of Jackson, who in 2015 pushed for the Boston 2024 bid documents to be public, were also more likely to want the Amazon bid made public.

(The MassINC Polling Group)
(The MassINC Polling Group)

On the line in the quest for Amazon's second headquarters are up to 50,000 "high-paying" jobs the company plans to bring to the chosen metro area. Amazon also plans to invest over $5 billion in constructing the headquarters.

To Boston residents, there are clear tangible economic benefits to landing Amazon's second headquarters. Though Boston residents still have some concerns about how the company would impact the area.

As Scott, the mechanic, put it: "Fifty-thousand jobs could go 50,000 ways. They could outsource people from all over the world and want to bring 'em here. Fifty-thousand jobs does not mean it's going to 50,000 Massachusetts residents."

Methodology: The WBUR poll surveyed 405 likely voters in the November 2017 election in the city of Boston. Interviews were conducted September 27 to October 1, 2017. The poll has a margin of error is 4.9 percentage points. 

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Zeninjor Enwemeka Twitter Digital Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a digital reporter, covering a range of news. She also covers tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.

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