Previously in this space, I looked at The VPR Poll’s reading of the race for governor. To encapsulate: Phil Scott has a huge early lead, Bruce Lisman’s in the crapper, and the two Democratic candidates are still trying to build identities with a largely uninvolved electorate.
The poll is an important snapshot of the race — really, our first since last fall, when the field was still a work in progress. But even more interesting are the issues results, which campaign builders ought to be examining closely. Because the message, as Firesign Theater once put it, is
Everything You Know Is Wrong
Well, maybe not everything, but a whole lot of things.
Issues that are supposed to be driving forces in 2016? Eh, the voters don’t much care.
Positions that could make or break a campaign? Over and over again, The People fail to conform to conventional wisdom.
Generally, the poll depicts a populace that’s more or less okay with how things are going and not especially engaged in politics. This, despite an ongoing barrage of doom-and-glooming by Republicans and certain interest groups.
Examples: A broad desire to stay the course or go even further on health care reform; widespread acceptance of large-scale renewables; strong endorsement of Vermont’s efforts on climate change; healthy support for the state’s school consolidation efforts; and huge majorities in favor of modest gun-control measures.
After the jump: the details.
Let’s start with a couple of “hot-button” issues the Republicans are pushing hard. First, health care reform:
What do you think should be done to address healthcare in Vermont? Should we…
Improve and continue with the Vermont Health Connect, the state health care system 20%
Move toward a single payer system like Medicare for all 33%
Discard the Vermont state exchange (Vermont Health Connect) and adopt the federal exchange 8%
Or something else (specify): 19%
Not sure/Don’t know 19%
Total respondents 895
Huh. Wow. A mere eight percent want to immediately switch to the federal exchange. Another 19 percent want some kind of switch. On the other hand, 53 percent either like the way things are, or want Vermont to go even further toward universal coverage.
I am truly surprised. Vermont Health Connect has been the subject of bad news and partisan attack since its abortive launch in the fall of 2014. And still, only a fraction of Vermonters want a change in direction. Maybe we should hold off on the Phil Scott victory parades.
Next, the Great Energy Rebellion being touted by Energize Vermont and other opponents of large-scale renewable energy. They claim a broad and growing movement that could even play a decisive role in this year’s elections.
But in the VPR poll, it’s more like a whisper than a thunderclap.
Seventy percent would support the development of a large solar array in their hometown.
Fifty-six percent feel the same way about large wind turbines. (Thirty-three percent say no.)
The vast majority are neutral on the state’s method for siting renewable installations. (Seventeen percent support, 27 percent oppose, 57 percent Not Sure/No Opinion.)
Not exactly a rebellion, is it? And please note the phrasing of the questions: not “do you favor large solar arrays?” it’s “would you support a solar array in your community?”
School finance and governance
As for Act 46, the school governance bill seemingly reviled by all — from conservatives who want tougher spending controls, to liberals who want no restrictions — most people are, well, ehh. Only 13 percent are “very familiar” with Act 46; 44 percent are “somewhat familiar”; and a whopping 42 percent are “not at all familiar.”
The sound you hear is the state’s political media banging their heads on the table. They spend countless hours trying to untangle complicated issues like this, and a lot of folks simply don’t give a damn.
Also, despite the Act 46 uproar, a solid 51 percent support Vermont’s efforts to encourage school consolidation. An underwhelming 29 percent oppose. 20 percent say “it depends” or “no opinion.”
On the most controversial issue of the 2015 session. So controversial that everyone in Montpelier fell all over themselves working out reforms to Act 46 by the end of January.
To be fair, it’s that 29 percent who make all the noise. And lawmakers react to noise.
But there’s the big takeaway from The VPR Poll: the people are largely disengaged from public policy — either because they’re okay with state government, or they’re convinced that state government can’t do anything for them.
It’s hard to distinguish between those very different sentiments because this poll was short on measures of well-being. It focused on discrete issues. There was one question about how respondents foresaw their personal finances one year from now; and again, the vast majority were feeling okay. Only nine percent expected their personal finances to get worse in the next year. Thirty-three percent expect things to improve, and 55 percent expect to stay about the same.
Again, not exactly Doomsday.
It would have been helpful to gauge respondents’ feelings toward the economy, public spending and taxation. But those were absent from the survey.
Guns and dope
Finally there were decisive results on a couple of issues that our often-timorous lawmakers find difficult: firearm control and marijuana legalization.
Fifty-five percent of respondents favor legalization of marijuana “for recreational use.” Thirty-two percent oppose, and 13 percent abstained. Maybe “decisive” is too strong a word, but that’s a substantial majority in favor of legal weed. Methinks The People are more aware of the rampant availability of marijuana, even for teenagers, and less worried than The Experts about the potential impact of legalizing a substance that’s already widely accessible.
And then there’s gun control. Regarding a waiting period of “a number of days” on gun sales, a whopping 83 percent were in favor. There was even stronger support for universal background checks: 89 percent support, only nine percent oppose.
On a third gun-related question, the results were merely decisive rather than overwhelming. Fifty-eight percent support limits on where someone is allowed to carry a firearm, while 32 percent oppose. The question’s wording is pretty open-ended — churches? schools? cities? — but I’m sure it’ll be cited by Burlington officials seeking legislative approval of gun restrictions within BTV city limits.
All in all, an enlightening and worthwhile survey, well worth a deep dive of your own. VPR has helpfully posted an Excel spreadsheet offering many different breakdowns, plus an explanation of the process and methodology.
Good opinion surveys are rare in Vermont, because we’re so small that nobody can afford to commission them. Thanks to VPR for a solid contribution to the public discourse, and our understanding thereof.