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Were our referendum predictions accurate?

As you hear us say often, we are not in the business of seeing a referendum pass or fail. Actually, we pride ourselves on being bad salespeople.


Instead, success for us is an accurate prediction. If the results tell us a referendum will pass and it does, that’s a win. If the results tell us a referendum a referendum is going to fail, a district takes that to ballot anyhow, and it fails, that’s a win too. We need to get you the best data you can for decision-making.


So, what’s the verdict? We accurately predicted the outcome on 20 of the 23 questions we tested.

Did we test more than 23 questions last fall? You bet. Why is the denominator different? That can (and should!) happen for a number of reasons.


Chief among them, school district leaders used the data!

Some districts were told by survey respondents that they would not support any referendum. Thus, those districts did not take a referendum to ballot – which makes sense. 


In other cases, what we tested was different from what was on a ballot. For example, one district in northern Wisconsin was considering a nearly $40 million capital referendum. Their survey respondents told them “No.” They decreased the ask by nearly $15 million on their ballot, and it passed. Were we right? I don’t know. It’s a counterfactual, an unanswerable question. We didn’t test what they had on their ballot.


Take another example. A district had a $28 million plan that respondents were on the fence about but leaned toward approval. They ended up taking that amount to ballot but the $28 million included a completely different scope of projects. Were we right? I don’t know. The way the money was going to be used wasn’t the same.


A district in western Wisconsin had a four-year $1.3 million operational referendum that was very close to 50-50 and within the margin of error. They took a $700,000 in year one, $900,000 in year two, $1.1 million in year three, and $1.3 million in year four referendum to ballot. Were we right? I don’t know.


We believe we can help you understand what taxpayers are saying. We’re more than happy to sacrifice knowing “how we did” if it means getting you the most useful data possible. We’re not perfect. We make incorrect predictions. We try our hardest to make sure that doesn’t happen, but it does. And we feel terrible about it every time. (We wrote about why we’re wrong a few years back. It’s as true today as ever.)


We strive to be an unbiased way for your community members and taxpayers to express their opinions.


We sincerely thank you for trusting us and letting us partner with you along the way.


The School Perceptions Blog and Resource Center features the voices of our team members. This post was written by Rob DeMeuse, Research Director.



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