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My message is better than your message!

Is not!

Is too!

Want to fight about it?

It's not quite that simple. But, in essence, that sort of exchange is what political campaigns are all about.

Two candidates present competing messages to the voters, who choose the one they like best.

It's not just candidates and their rival campaigns competing against each other.

Sometimes it's conflicting ideas, like the November 2020 vote on Gov. J.B. Pritzker's proposed progressive-income-tax amendment to the Illinois Constitution. The amendment would replace the current flat tax mandate with one that allows legislators to levy rising tax rates on rising levels of income.

The opposing sides have fashioned their messages and already begun to exchange televised attacks.

What's going to happen? It's hard to say for two reasons, one based on fact and the other on theory.

The reality is that November 2020 is a long way off — more than 16 months.

The theory is that in politics a week can be an eternity.

But for now, Ideas Illinois, the voice of the opposition, likes where it stands in the public opinion polls. Its polling shows the anti-tax amendment message is not being well received by enough voters.

Gov. Pritzker unofficially confirmed that finding when he revealed his irritation with the anti-tax message.

"I think opponents of the 'Fair Tax' certainly are trying to muddy the waters, trying to come up with words to make it seem like something it's not. The most recent silliness was 'blank check jobs tax,' which I'm not sure I understand. It really is a crazy notion that they're putting forward and an untrue notion," Pritzker recently said.

Pritzker's statement reveals the messages he's trying to sell voters.

His tax plan is "fair." His opponents back a "crazy notion" that is "untrue." Their characterization of his tax proposal as a "blank check jobs tax" is just "silliness." The opposition position is so addled that "I'm not sure I understand" what the opposition is trying to say.

Each side is trying to define the other in an unflattering way to the voters.

How is it going so far?

Anti-progressive tax Ideas Illinois recently directed its pollster — "We Ask America" — to sample public opinion. "We Ask America" conducted 800 interviews with likely voters from May 29-30 "using a blend of automated calls to landlines and live-operator calls to cell phones." "The margin of error for this survey is plus or minus 3.46 percent at a confidence interval of 95," according to a memo on its findings.

Here's an important number to remember — just 52 percent of voter households have "seen, read or heard information" about the upcoming vote on Pritzker's tax measure. So the electorate remains malleable.*

The poll showed that "support for a progressive income tax sits at just 51 percent."

That's a majority, but not close to the 60 percent super-majority the Constitution requires for a proposed amendment to become law,

That 51 percent figure "marks an 8 percent overall drop" from a similar survey in February. Meanwhile, 33 percent are opposed, up 2 percent from February.

The poll revealed support for the Pritzker tax plan has fallen "despite nearly $5 million in spending by (pro-amendment) Think Big Illinois."

Why the decline in support?

We Ask America attributed the decline to Ideas Illinois' attacks on what Pritzker calls a "fair tax."

"Voters see right through it. While voters right now are seeing the Pritzker messaging, they also don't like it," the memo states.

Sampling from the Champaign/Springfield areas, where pro- and anti-tax television advertising has been heavy, found 46 percent "agreed that the constitutional amendment is 'just a blank check for Springfield politicians to spend more and will hurt Illinois' economy and force businesses to leave the state.'" The poll indicated 32 percent of respondents disagreed with that statement.

The harder the critics hit that idea, We Ask America concluded, the more opposition there will be to the proposed amendment.

The poll warned that Pritzker has an ace up his sleeve — his vast wealth. He can spend any amount of money on pro-amendment radio and television advertising.

Pritzker has "near unlimited resources and he will continue to dump millions (of dollars) in promoting his 'Fair Tax.' He'll need to keep doing that if he has any chance of succeeding," the memo states.

Since politics is war by other means, the campaign is likely to get nasty. Pritzker already has targeted the super-rich he claims don't pay their fair share. So look for more hostile rhetoric that targets upper-income earners.

But the memo said polling shows Pritzker also has weaknesses that can be exploited.

One is the pending criminal investigation into the alleged property tax fraud at one of Pritzker's Chicago mansions

The other is his association with Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, the widely unpopular leader of Illinois Democrats.

The poll revealed that 44 percent agreed with the following statement, "J.B. Pritzker partnered with Mike Madigan to write a tax plan that gives a blank check to Illinois politicians."

Just 33 percent agreed with the following statement, "J.B. Pritzker partnered with Mike Madigan to pass a fair tax to make the wealthy pay their fair share."

* Word of the day: malleable. It means "pliable, pliant, soft, workable, shapable, moldable."

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-351-5369.

Opinions Editor

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.