Poll: Party swings treasurer's race
By Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Press Bureau | October 27,2012
The most fiercely contested race of the 2012 elections could come down to party affiliation, according to a newly released poll of Vermont voters.
A survey of 1,220 likely voters conducted in late September by a left-leaning polling firm out of North Carolina aims to handicap the race between state Treasurer Beth Pearce and challenger Wendy Wilton.
When voters aren’t supplied with party identification, according to Public Policy Polling, Wilton and Pearce are in a statistical dead heat. Asked, however, whether they would vote for “Democrat Beth Pearce or Republican Wendy Wilton,” the incumbent leads by 46 percent to 37 percent.
The $4,000 poll, commissioned by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal political action committee based in Washington, D.C., is being used not only to tout the electoral benefits of a “D,” but to show broad support generally among Vermonters for one of the party’s defining policies: single-payer health care.
The poll found that 53 percent of Vermonters “approve of Vermont going forward with Green Mountain Care, a single-payer health care system that will guarantee coverage for everyone in the state.”
The survey found that 38 percent disapprove.
Adam Green, co-founder of the PCCC, which counts 950,000 members nationally and more than 4,200 in Vermont, said the poll also shows that the single-payer platform is an electoral asset for the politicians that support it.
The poll found that 43 percent of voters would be more likely to back Pearce if they knew that she “strongly supported” single-payer, and Wilton “strongly opposed” it. Thirty-two percent said they would be less likely to support Pearce, and 18 percent said it wouldn’t make a difference.
Pearce has said she supports health care as a “public good” but has not weighed in on the merits of single-payer specifically. Wilton panned Gov. Peter Shumlin’s single-payer plan last December but now says she’s agnostic.
“The question is, will voters reward boldness? Will voters reward leaders who stand up for single-payer health care?” Green said Friday. “And our hope is that on Nov. 6 the answer is a very large ‘yes.’”
The poll was conducted in late September, but Green said the PCCC opted to release results now in the hopes that it will embolden Democrats as they near the general election.
“I think the bottom line is that Democrats have a very strong hand,” Green said.
The poll includes message-testing questions that suggest support for single-payer might be fragile. The poll tells respondents that “opponents of Green Mountain Care say that it will increase taxes. Do you think that this is a good reason to oppose Green Mountain Care, or not?”
The survey found that 55 percent of likely voters say tax increases are a very good or somewhat good reason to oppose it.
Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College, said that while Public Policy Polling is regarded as a liberal outfit, it doesn’t veer any farther to the left than Rasmussen does to the right.
“I think for opponents of single-payer, there is some information in here they can use, too,” Davis said. “I think there are results in here they can capitalize, if they can figure out the right way to deliver the message.”
Rich Clark, director of the Castleton Polling Institute at Castleton State College, said Public Policy Polling has its methodological flaws, including the use of prerecorded survey interviews (answers are made either by touch tone or voice recognition) and failure to include cellphones.
But he, too, said the poll is legitimate.
Green said Vermonters’ aversion to tax increases is conditional. He noted a separate question in which voters were asked: “In order to pay for Green Mountain Care, would you support or oppose a small increase in taxes on the richest 2 percent of Vermont residents?”
Nearly 60 percent of Vermonters, according to the poll, said they would support such a tax hike.
“If Democrats make clear that … the burden will largely be asked to be taken on by the richest taxpayers, this is overwhelmingly popular,” Green said. “It’s an easy messaging nuance Democrats can manipulate in order to make sure people know this is going to benefit the little guys.”
Jeff Wennberg, head of the anti-single-payer group Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, called the poll “laughable” and said the questions were designed to influence opinions, not gauge them.
He said the suggestion that a “small increase in taxes” for the richest 2 percent could pay for single-payer is “ludicrous.”
“They would have to remember we need somewhere in the vicinity of $3 billion in taxes to support this,” Wennberg said. “You couldn’t do a small tax increase on 100 percent of Vermont residents and come up with $3 billion.”
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee’s investment in Vermont elections won’t end with the $4,000 poll. Green said volunteers from the organization will hit the phones on Pearce’s behalf Sunday.
He said volunteers from across the country will be calling Vermonters to urge them to vote for the Democrat on Nov. 6. He said he expects the phone bank to reach about 20,000 Vermont homes.