Mainers polled this month indicate they will approve all six referendum questions on the Nov. 8 ballot, but the approval margins on four of the more hotly contested issues – including those involving marijuana and guns – have narrowed since a similar Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram poll was conducted in September.
If the actual vote reflects the poll results, Mainers will legalize recreational use of marijuana, impose a tax surcharge on high-income earners to create a fund for public education, expand background checks on gun transactions, increase the state’s minimum wage, enact ranked-choice voting and approve a bond issue of $100 million for transportation improvements.
The poll, conducted by The Survey Center of the University of New Hampshire between Oct. 20 and Oct. 25, surveyed 761 randomly selected Maine adults. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points among all respondents and 3.8 percentage points for those identified as likely voters.
Legalized marijuana and expanding the forms of gun transactions requiring background checks appear to be the most hotly contested questions. Both are favored, but by a margin of just 9 percentage points each. And the margin of approval has shrunk for both, down from 15 percentage points in September for marijuana legalization and from a 28 percentage point margin in favor of background checks last month.
VIEWS OF SOME RESPONDENTS
Steve Knight of Oakland, who participated in the poll, said he will vote against legalizing marijuana because he sees it as a “gateway” to the use of more dangerous drugs.
Knight, who supports the current law allowing the use of medical marijuana, said he also worries about more people driving after consuming marijuana if recreational use is legalized.
“I grew up in the ’60s, but I didn’t use any,” said Knight, a retired high school teacher who now teaches at a community college. “I’m disturbed about (the impact on) driving safety. Also, just to make it legal seems to say ‘It’s OK.’ ”
But Chad Grover of Oxford, another poll participant, said he will vote to legalize marijuana use.
“It’s less dangerous than alcohol,” he said.
Those polled favored expanded background checks on gun transactions by a margin of 52 percent to 43 percent. In September, the poll showed a majority favoring the measure by a larger 61 percent to 33 percent count.
Grover said he thinks the measure is too restrictive, while Barbara Sylvain of Fort Kent said she’s a big believer in the Second Amendment but thinks expanded checks make sense.
“If a background check shows something amiss, then you may save a life,” Sylvain said.
Support for a proposal to increase the state’s minimum wage in steps, up to $12 an hour in 2020, is favored by a strong 22 percentage point margin, although that, too, shrank from September, when the margin was 32 points. The poll indicated 57 percent support the measure and 35 percent are opposed.
Support was strongest among Democrats and those who say they will vote for Hillary Clinton for president, and opposition was greatest among Republicans and those who support Donald Trump. Nearly three-quarters of those in households with incomes below $30,000 back the increased minimum wage, while those with household incomes over $100,000 are almost evenly split, with 47 percent in favor and 45 percent opposed.
The final highly contested issue involves a 3 percent tax surcharge on those earning more than $200,000, with the money going toward education. It was favored by 57 percent of those polled, while 34 percent are opposed. The 23-point margin is down from 28 points in September, when 60 percent favored the tax and 32 percent were opposed.
Knight, the semiretired teacher, said he backs the measure, but is worried that lawmakers would use the increased tax as an excuse to cut other aid to education. He said he hopes the money goes to restore cuts that were enacted as school budgets have been tightened. For instance, he’d like to see more guidance counselors hired, and art and music classes beefed up.
Another question, ranked-choice voting, would allow voters to indicate a first choice on a ballot, along with second, third, fourth and other choices in a race with crowded fields. Candidates who finish last are knocked out and their voters’ other choices allocated until one candidate ends up with at least 50 percent of the vote.
Supporters call it an “instant runoff.”
The proposal is favored by 49 percent of those polled, while 31 percent are opposed and 20 percent are undecided. The margin in September was 48-29 percent in favor.
Knight said he doesn’t feel strongly about the issue, but thinks he will vote for it because it’s better for elected officials to go into office with a majority of the vote, even if they don’t get it immediately. Sylvain, however, said she will vote against the measure, saying “enough already” to changes in voting procedures. The Fort Kent resident worries that the new approach might confuse voters, and that could discourage people from casting ballots.
BIG LEAD FOR INFRASTRUCTURE BOND
The poll indicated that the transportation bond measure was garnering the greatest support, with 66 percent of those surveyed saying they would vote in favor of spending money on highways, bridges and other transportation facilities. That’s the same percentage who backed it in the September poll, although the percentage of those who oppose it grew slightly, from 20 percent to 24 percent.
Sylvain said she saw a lot of road work being done in northern Maine this summer, and that she will vote for the bond because the need is still great.
“For me, that will always be a ‘yes,’ ” she said of bond issues for transportation. “Spend the money and get the job done.”