"If there's anything that can actually trump pocketbook issues, it's our children's health and education rights," Castleton College Pollster Rich Clark said.
Clark deals with numbers and what they mean. But he says when it comes to emotional issues like immunizing your child or dealing with your death, polls don't always capture the passion.
"When I'm supervising in the phone room I know when the interviewers are at this question," Clark said.
He's talking about asking Vermonters where they stand on end-of-life choices. A new poll conducted for WCAX, WDEV and Vermont Business Magazine asked 600 registered Vermont voters if they would support legislation allowing terminally ill people to take prescribed medicine to end their lives-- 72 percent say they support such legislation, 20 percent oppose it and 7 percent are not sure.
"There was often a pause. There was often a longer conversation around it," Clark said.
Clark said the majority of respondents wanted to qualify their answers. Political analyst Chris Graff says policymakers are saddled with the same struggle when it comes to Vermonters' right to die.
"These are ones the legislators divide along personal lines, not party lines. It's not really a simple policy issue, these are really personal gut-wrenching issues," Graff said.
He says the polling results are no surprise. Historically, Vermonters have supported allowing for end-of-life choices. But that support has never translated into law. This year, after rigorous debate and public testimony, the death-with-dignity or physician-assisted suicide bill failed to pass once again, this time on the Senate floor.
"The issue of immunizations, I think, was the big surprise of the legislative sessions," Graff said.
Graff says politicians underestimated the passionate debate that shot up when childhood immunizations hit the floor. Our poll put it to the voters: should parents be required to vaccinate their kids or should they have the right to opt out? The answer: 56 percent say immunizations should be required, 35 percent say it's up to the parents and 8 percent are not sure.
It's an issue that divided Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, and his administration. The governor said making personal choices for parents is not government's job, but Vt. Health Commissioner Harry Chen said making childhood vaccines mandatory ensures public welfare.
"This is a real important philosophical division and you can see why people are passionate about it," Graff said.
House and Senate negotiators initially struck a deal that would have maintained the controversial philosophical exemption unless the immunization rate dropped below 90 percent. But the House would not go along with that. So the latest version of the bill keeps the exemption in place.
Our pollster, Castleton Polling Institute, asked 607 registered Vermont voters how they would vote.
Here are the results:
QUESTION: This year the Legislature debated what supporters call "death with dignity" and opponents call "physician-assisted suicide." Would you support legislation allowing someone who is terminally ill to take prescribed medicine to end his or her life?
SUPPORT SUCH LEGISLATION
OPPOSE SUCH LEGISLATION
NOT SURE/IT DEPENDS
QUESTION: Some people say that immunizations against infectious diseases are effective only if everyone, or almost everyone, is immunized, while others say that parents should have the right to opt out of immunizing their children for philosophical reasons. Do you think immunization should be required or should parents have the right to opt out of immunizing their children for philosophical reasons?
IMMUNIZATION SHOULD BE REQUIRED
PARENTS SHOULD HAVE RIGHT TO OPT OUT
NOT SURE/IT DEPENDS
This survey was conducted for WCAX, WDEV and Vermont Business Magazine by the Castleton Polling Institute at Castleton College. A total of 607 registered voters were interviewed statewide by telephone between May 7th to May 16th.
Those interviewed were selected from a random sample of registered voters in Vermont
The margin for error, according to standards customarily used by statisticians, is no more than plus or minus 4 percentage points.
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