Voting Yes for Funding Public Parks: The Effectiveness of Social Media Communication in a Tax Referendum Campaign


  • Suiwen (Sharon) Zou University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Nicholas Pitas University of Illinois
  • Andrew Kerins Eastern Illinois University
  • Mary Ellen Wuellner Champaign County Forest Preserve District, Mahomet, IL
  • Izabelle Jaquet University of Illinois



Although local park and recreation agencies rely on various types of funding, tax-based allocations are the most significant funding source. Unfortunately, tax-based allocations have not kept pace with growing user demands and maintenance backlogs. As such, successful tax referenda are becoming critical for sustained operations and capital investment. Among the various activities that may sway public opinion, strategic messaging through a variety of media may be one of the most important. Using a county-level public park agency’s 2020 tax referendum as a case study, the purpose of this study is to identify successful communication strategies of open space referendum campaigns that secure support from voters. Data were collected from the campaign’s official Facebook page to examine what message content and post type were effective in increasing voter awareness and engagement. 

     Results from regressions showed that messages that explained the ballot in plain language (e.g., Simplify Ballot Language), demonstrated support or approval from local organizations or local champions/celebrities (e.g., Endorsement), broke down the total amount of tax being requested (i.e., Temporal Reframing), and emphasized the direct benefits if the referendum were passed (i.e., Direct Outcome) were most effective in increasing the awareness of the referendum. Among Facebook page followers, posts that demonstrated campaign efforts/activities (i.e., Demonstration) and acknowledged individuals’ or organizations’ efforts to support the campaign (i.e., Acknowledgement) effectively increased engagement. In terms of Facebook post types, photo posts and video posts generally performed better than link and shared video posts. The study has three main practical implications for open space referenda advocates and managers concerned with campaign communication: (1) solicit and demonstrate support from highly regarded local organizations or individuals; (2) emphasize the direct benefits and break down the total amount of tax being asked; and (3) use short videos and scenic images.





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