Figure. 1. Vermonters’ views on the most important issue facing their state. The economy makes up fully one third of responses.
Figure. 2. Importance of three major issue areas, by age
Figure 3. Illustrates the relative differences in name recognition among the candidates and potential candidates that were included in our poll as a percent of respondents who say that they have heard of a potential gubernatorial candidate.
CASTLETON—Jobs and the economy are generally seen as the most important problem facing the state of Vermont. This was confirmed in a recent Castleton Polling Institute poll of Vermont residents: one-third of all respondents cited the economy as the most important issue facing the state. Figure 1 illustrates the range of responses to the open-ended question asking them to name the issue most on their minds. Other responses touched on concern for the state’s infrastructure, abortion, partisanship, and concern for the state’s senior citizens. While in total they represent a large number of respondents (14 percent), no single issue within the overall group represents more than 2 percent of the total sample.
The economy and taxes and spending were more likely to resonate with older respondents, while drugs and opiate addiction as an issue was more likely to resonate with younger Vermonters: Figure 2 illustrates these differences. The economy is seen as more salient as one’s level of education increased, and conversely, taxes and spending is seen as less salient as education levels rise.
The Castleton Poll asked respondents: “The Vermont legislature passed and Governor Shumlin signed Act 46, a law designed to encourage and help local school districts partner together to create districts of at least 900 students. How familiar are you with Act 46?”
Given that brief introduction to the question, 12 percent said that they were very familiar with Act 46, and 48 percent said they were somewhat familiar; 40 percent of respondents, however, said they were completely unfamiliar with Act 46. There is no clear relationship between respondents’ familiarity with Act 46 and their support of “state actions” to consolidate schools. Regardless of familiarity with Act 46, a clear majority (59 percent) favor state actions to encourage consolidation of schools. There is also little difference in support for school consolidation by political party affiliation or by one’s level of education; however, age appears related to respondent views on the issue. Fifty-four percent of those under 45 years old support consolidation, compared with 61 percent of those age 45-64, and 65 percent for those age 65 and older.
Support for legalizing and regulating marijuana in Vermont for recreational use has remained steady since the last time Castleton put the question to the general public. In February 2015, a Castleton Poll found a slim majority (54 percent) favored and 40 percent opposed legalizing marijuana; in the poll that concluded on Sept. 14, pollsters found 56 percent now favor legalization and 34 percent oppose. The percent without an opinion on the matter rose slightly from 6 percent to 10 percent, but this difference is not significant. Overall, support remains level even as talk about taking the issue up in the next legislation session increases.
Castleton will release more data on support of and opposition to marijuana legalization in a later and more extensive report.
Presidential, gubernatorial approval ratings
The poll gathered respondents’ views on the performances of President Obama and Governor Shumlin as well as their assessments of the current state of the state.
According to the poll, 47 percent of respondents approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing as president, and 39 percent disapprove—giving the president a net approval rating of 8 percentage points; 14 percent of the respondents have no opinion about the president’s performance.
The same cannot be said for Governor Shumlin, although his numbers heading into autumn are slightly above those found in the VTDigger poll from last winter. In the September Castleton poll, 40 percent of Vermonters say that they approve of the job the governor is doing, while 43 percent disapprove;16 percent remain on the fence, expressing no opinion. The net approval score of -3 percentage points is a slight change from last winter, when the net approval score was -6 points.
While President Obama’s approval numbers are mostly driven by partisan affiliation, the response to Shumlin’s approval is more complex, with 80 percent of Vermont Democrats approve of the job being done by the president, whereas only 58 percent of Democrats approve of the governor’s job performance. Only 12 percent of Vermont Republicans approve of the job Obama is doing, but 22 percent approve of Shumlin’s performance as governor. Independents are more likely to approve of the president’s job performance (44 percent) than that of the governor (38 percent).
Vermonters are also evenly split in their opinion on the direction of the state of Vermont; 44 percent say that Vermont is “heading in the right direction,” and 43 percent say that the state is “on the wrong track.” The public ambivalence about the direction of the state, combined with the fact that neither the race for governor nor that for lieutenant governor will feature an incumbent, suggests that Vermont voters can go in any direction at this point.
There is a clear relationship between party affiliation and the public’s opinion on the direction the state is taking, with Democrats feeling best about the direction of the state, and Republicans being the least optimistic.
The 2016 Vermont gubernatorial race is just getting underway. To assess the starting position of the candidates—those declared and some who may potentially run—the Castleton Polling Institute measured the public’s awareness of eight potential candidates.
The candidate with the highest name recognition among respondents was Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott, recognized by 77 percent of respondents, followed by Scott Milne, who has not yet declared himself a candidate, with 73 percent name recognition. At the other extreme is Bruce Lisman, recognized by 21 percent of respondents; however, Lisman declared his candidacy while the poll was in the field, and in fact Castleton saw Lisman’s name recognition rise in the days of data collection after Aug. 31.