By Elizabeth Hewitt
For Vermont Digger
Vermonters rank the economy as the most pressing issue facing Vermont, according to a poll released by Castleton Polling Institute last week.
According to the survey, marijuana legalization, school consolidation and an ethics commission all have the support of the majority of respondents.
A third of the poll’s 617 respondents said that the economy, jobs and the cost of living are the most important challenges facing the state.
Taxes and government spending came in second, with 13 percent of those polled ranking it as the most significant issue, followed by opiate and other drug addiction, which topped the list for 12 percent of respondents.
ˇEric Davis, Middlebury College professor emeritus of political science, says that he was “not at all surprised” to see the economy ranked as the No. 1 issue. Although, Davis said, people may include a broad range of issues under the umbrella of “the economy.”
The survey notes that people aged 65 and up were more likely than other age groups to identify the economy as the most important issue. That demographic tends to align with Vermont GOP voters, Davis said, adding that it makes sense in light of Republican gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Phil Scott establishing affordability as one of his talking points.
Davis said that he was surprised that more Vermonters did not rank health care as the issue of primary importance. It came in fourth, with 10 percent of people polled naming it their No. 1 issue.
“With all the amount of time the governor and Legislature spent on health care it was a little surprising to me that health care, was where it is,” Davis said.
Meanwhile, the poll, which was conducted between Aug. 24 and Sept. 14, found that the number of Vermonters who would like to see pot legalized for recreational use held steady from a poll earlier this year.
Some 56 percent of those polled support the legalization of marijuana, while 34 percent oppose it.
Those numbers show a slight increase in support for legalization over [a Castleton poll conducted in February of this year], when 54 percent of Vermonters polled favored legalization and 40 percent opposed it.
According to the poll, “a clear majority” of Vermonters support action by the state to encourage school districts to consolidate.
Fifty-nine percent of respondents said that they support action by the state to encourage school districts to consolidate.
While a majority support consolidation, 40 percent of those polled are not familiar with Act 46, the education reform bill passed by the Legislature this year that incentivizes school districts to consolidate.
Meanwhile, the poll finds broad support across the political spectrum for an ethics commission. There was, however, some partisan divide.
Seventy-nine percent of Democrats say they supported establishing an ethics commission, compared to 64 percent of Republicans. However, a greater percentage of identified Republicans said they saw the need for an ethics commission — 76 percent — compared to 65 percent of all Democrats polled.
Secretary of State Jim Condos, long an advocate for an ethics commission, said last Wednesday that the poll results are “good news.”
He noted that there seems to be swelling support among legislators to implement a commission, and he expects that the House and Senate Government Operations committees will be prepared to take up legislation.
“I think the legislative support is building,” Condos said.