Doyle poll avoids tough issues; probes on fluff

by Lindsay Smith

As he has done for over four decades, Senator Bill Doyle will be issuing his “Town Meeting Day Survey” this March. Now a Vermont instituion, the “Doyle Poll” is admittedly unscientific. People can fill it out as many times as they like, and distribution is around the state is not uniform. Still, many thousands of Vermonters take the time to answer the questions and make their voices heard.

Last year in his legislative report, Rep. Joe Acinapura (R-Brandon) described how he and many other legislators regard the Doyle survey, “I realize this is a very unscientific poll. Many legislators do not distribute the survey for this very reason. In Brandon, less than 10% of the eligible voters usually complete the survey. Yet I know some of [my constituents] like the poll since it gives [them] the opportunity to state [their] views. It also gives me an indication of public sentiment in Brandon and across the State.”

Sen. Doyle’s poll focuses on what he considers are the “hot topics” the legislature is facing. This year’s questions include:

1. Should Vermont continue its efforts to close Yankee?

2. Should drivers be prohibited from using cell phones while driving?

3. Should Vermont have a four-year term for governor?

4. Do you think that Governor Peter Shumlin is doing a good job?

5. Do you believe the Vermont legislature is doing a good job?

6. Are you optimistic about the future of Vermont?

7. Are you optimistic about the future of our nation?

8. Do you believe Vermont’s bottle deposit law should be expanded to include all bottled beverages?

9. Do you support the federal law which requires everyone to have health insurance?

10. Should wind turbines be built on Vermont ridgelines?

11. Should state and federal funds be used to allow Vermont’s schoolchildren to have nutritious meals?

12. Should Vermont legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana (2 ounces)?

13. Should the high school drop-out age be changed from 16 to 18?

14. Should the state of Vermont continue to support our working farms and forests?

Interestingly, for a poll that supposedly tackles the “hot” issues, only one question (#9) mentions healthcare at all, and it refers to the federal mandate to buy insurance, not any of the specific issues the Vermont legislature is currently working on.

One appropriate question might be: Do you agree small businesses (under 50 employees) should be encouraged to drop employee health insurance and “dump” employees into the exchange? About 2/3 of Vermonters work for small businesses.

Another question not asked is: Do you think the legislature should pass legislation requiring the Green Mountain Care Board to publish funding and administrative costs for healthcare reform before Vermonters go to the polls in November?

Senator Doyle acknowledged that this is an important question but, insists is too obvious for the poll:

“I think everyone would say yes and they should… I think if I asked ‘do you think you should know how much [Green Mountain Care] is going to cost,’ of course 95% would say yes. I mean it’s a good issue and it’s a proper concern because a lot of people don’t know the answer to that and they don’t want to vote until they know.”

But, if the answer is so obvious, then how is it that an overwhelming majority (a “supermajority,” in fact) of Senator Doyle’s legislative colleagues voted “no” on that very question?

If questions that have obvious answers are not appropriate for the Doyle Poll, then why ask something like, “Should state and federal funds be used to allow Vermont’s schoolchildren to have nutritious meals?” Or, Should the state of Vermont continue to support our working farms and forests?” Who’s going to say no to questions worded like that?

To be fair, this year’s Doyle Poll probes some tough questions on marijuana, Vermont Yankee, and wind turbines on ridge-lines. But when Vermonters sit around their kitchen tables this year, who really believes real people are worrying about what bottles should be included in the bottle bill, or whether or not cell phones should be banned? Perhaps that’s a question for the 2013 Doyle Poll.

Rob Roper contributed to this article.