Pew poll shows majority of Philadelphians support soda tax, younger people more so

People walk in view of the city skyline in Philadelphia (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

People walk in view of the city skyline in Philadelphia (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

A majority of Philadelphians support Mayor Jim Kenney’s tax on sweetened drinks, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts poll released Wednesday, but warm feelings about the tax appear to be divided along generational lines.

The mostly cellphone poll, which surveyed 1,640 residents, showed that 54 percent backed Kenney’s so-called soda tax, whereas 42 percent held an unfavorable view of the levy. 

“It’s a statistically significant difference. It’s not overwhelming, but it is support,” said Larry, Eichel, director of Pew’s Philadelphia research initiative.

Broken down by age, the poll results reveal a striking difference: Residents younger than 50 years old support the tax, and people under 35 were extremely supportive of the tax. Yet residents older than 50 were nearly split down the middle.


Views on the controversial 1.5-cent-per-once tax on soda and other sweetened drinks were not lightly held. Three-quarters of those who support it told pollsters they strongly favor it, and more than three-quarters of those against the tax said their opposition was strong.

“So very intense feelings there,” Eichel said.

The signature policy of Kenney’s first year in office, the tax, which is expected to go into effect next year, will generate revenue to expand pre-kindergarten and improve city parks, recreation centers and libraries.

The tax is imposed on distributors, not at the point of sale, but assuming distributors pass along the entire tax to consumers, the cost of a 12 ounce can of soda would rise by 18 cents, and the price of a 2-liter bottle of soda would spike by $1.

In Berkeley, California, which passed a similar tax, researchers have found that soda sellers passed on about 70 percent of the tax to consumers and absorbed the remainder.

Philadelphia City Council approved the tax in June with a 13-4 vote, but since then, the American Beverage Association has challenged it in court, calling the tax unfair and unconstitutional. The ABA would like the matter to be taken up by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court immediately. Yet attorneys working for the city said they need more time to get their legal defense in order. 

Millions were expended in the lead-up to the Council vote. The soda industry shelled out more than $10 million in an effort to defeat the tax. Proponents of the measure responded with a $2.5 million campaign to rally support for it.

Mayor Kenney said in a statement that the poll makes clear that despite the soda industry’s expensive effort to undo the tax, Philadelphians still support it and the programs to which the new revenue will be devoted.

“It’s deeply disappointing that the soda industry is trying to take those badly needed, anti-poverty programs away, for no other reason than corporate profit, and flying in the face of what Philadelphians support,” Kenney said.

A spokesman for Philadelphians Against the Grocery Tax Coalition, Anthony Campisi dismissed the poll, saying he expects support for the tax to nosedive once people start paying for it in January.

“Consumers aren’t seeing this unfair tax hit their wallets yet,” Capmpisi said. “The debate over this regressive tax is not about city programs, like pre-K, that have dominated the news for the last several months. It is about finding a long-term, responsible and equitable funding source without hurting working families and small businesses.”

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