Fig. 1. Most important issue for the Vermont State Legislature to address in 2015
Fig. 2. Public support for legalizing marijuana in Vermont, by age
Fig. 3. Vermonters following news about legalizing marijuana for recreational use
PULL QUOTE: While 52 percent of those who supported legalization [of recreational marijuana] said that they felt very strongly about their position, 66 percent of those who opposed legalization had very strong feelings against it.
Topics include legalization of marijuana, legislative issues, childhood immunizations
CASTLETON—From February 9 to 24, 2015, poll, the Castleton Polling Institute at Castleton College conducted a telephone poll for VTDigger of Vermont residents regarding issues of current importance to the state. Live interviewers collected responses using randomly selected cell phone and landline numbers, provided by a supply house.
Interviewers first asked respondents what they thought was the most important issue for the Vermont state legislature to address this year. The two most common responses focused on economy and jobs (22 percent of respondents) and taxes and budget issues (20 percent of respondents), with a focus on property taxes and addressing the budget shortfall. Health care was the most important issue cited by 16 percent of respondents, and education was the most important issue in the opinion of 12 percent.
Legalizing recreational marijuana
Poll results showed that a majority of Vermonters polled (54 percent) support legalizing recreational marijuana in Vermont; 40 oppose legalization and 6 percent do not have an opinion on the issue. Those under 45 years of age are far more likely to support legalization, while those aged 65 or older are more likely to oppose legalization, as illustrated in Fig. 2.
By political affiliation, of those polled, 62 percent of Democrats favored legalization, as compared to only 23 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of independents. Republican opposition to legalization extended across all age groups, with 79 percent of Republicans from 18 to 44 years old opposed to legalization; however, Democrats aged 65 and older were evenly split on the issue, with 48 percent favoring legalization and 48 percent opposed.
Seventy-three percent of those polled said that they followed “news concerning arguments for and against legalizing the sale of marijuana for recreational use” either very closely or somewhat closely. For those following the news about marijuana at least somewhat, the rate of support for legalization was stable; in other words, there is no relationship between support for legalization and the propensity to follow the news about marijuana.
When asked how strongly they felt in favor of or against legalizing marijuana, those who opposed legalization had somewhat stronger opinions on the issue than those who favored legalization. While 52 percent of those who supported legalization said that they felt very strongly about their position, 66 percent of those who opposed legalization had very strong feelings against it.
Using open-ended questions, the poll also asked respondents to give a reason why they either supported or opposed legalization of marijuana in Vermont. The most common response given in favor of legalization was the tax revenue that would be generated from the economic activity (expressed by 36 percent of those who favored legalization). Apart from the revenue argument, the next most common reasons given by supporters were related to possible relief to the judicial system (19 percent of supporters) and the belief that marijuana is no more dangerous than other, legal substances such as tobacco and alcohol (18 percent).
Among the responses given in support of legalization was the following: “Not only do I think it should have never been classified as a Schedule 1 drug, I think we would benefit from the taxes just as we benefit from those on alcohol. The older generation has a hard time accepting it, I think it has a lot of health benefits.…It’s a billion dollar industry. It’s a plant, for God’s sake. And keeping it out of the hands of children will be easy; we already do that with tobacco and other substances. We need to stop wasting our tax dollars locking people up for pot.”
The reasons for opposition to legalizing marijuana were more diverse than the reasons for support. For those opposed to the legalization of marijuana, the most common reasons given focused on the moral aspect of drug use (16 percent); people giving this response tended to say that it was just “wrong” or not good to use drugs. Thirteen percent of those giving a reason for their opposition said that marijuana was a gateway drug, and another 11 percent expressed concern specifically about child safety. Ten percent cited health risks. Many respondents simply stated that we should wait to see what happens in other states such as Washington, Colorado, and Oregon before we move forward with legalization in Vermont.
One respondent stated: “Decriminalization was a huge step, and that’s sufficient. [There are] too many unknowns in a state like Vermont to make it legal. Once it happens it can’t be turned back, I do not believe the financial benefits would be there.”
Support for legalizing marijuana in Vermont remains consistent since asked by the Castleton Polling Institute in a general population survey in Vermont in May 2014, when 57 percent of respondents favored legalization. On a national scale, 52 percent of respondents think that “marijuana should be made legal,” according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in October 2014. A Gallup Poll conducted about the same time found similar results.
On another topic, respondents generally did not think that immunizations for childhood communicable diseases should be “optional” or left to parents to decide. Additionally, a majority of respondents believed that public schools should be allowed to deny attendance to children who have not been immunized for “measles and other communicable diseases for which there are vaccinations.” In order to test these concepts separately—parents’ philosophical objections to vaccinations and public schools’ authority to exclude unvaccinated children—no respondent was asked both questions. The poll randomly assigned one question to some respondents and the other question to the remainder of the respondents. The data suggest that the public is slightly more likely to oppose parental rights to choose whether or not to immunize their children (68 percent) than to grant public schools the authority to ban those students who have not been immunized (62 percent).
The final sample includes a total of 700 completed interviews, 477 by landline (68 percent) and 223 by cell phone (32 percent). The final data are weighted by county, gender, and age to adjust for differential response rates in order to assure that the data are as representative of the state’s actual adult population as closely as possible. The margin of error for a sample of 700 is +/- 4 percentage points at the full sample level. Any subpopulation analysis entails a greater margin of error. While sampling error is only one possible source of survey error, all reasonable precautions have been taken to reduce total survey error.