Issues Facing Vermonters in 2015

In its February poll, the Castleton Polling Institute asked respondents a series of questions regarding the current issues facing the state of Vermont. Questions were asked regarding the respondents' opinions on the legalization of marijuana, childhood immunizations, and what the most important issue for the Vermont state legislature to address in the coming year.

Most important issue for the Vermont State Legislature to address in 2015

When asked what they think is the most important issue for the Vermont state legislature to address this year.  The two most common responses focused on addressing the economy and jobs (from 22 percent of respondents) and taxes and budget issues (20 percent) with a focus on property taxes and addressing the budget shortfall. Healthcare was the most important issue cited by 16 percent of respondents, and education was the most important issue in the opinion of 12 percent. 

Marijuana Legalization

A majority of Vermonters (54 percent) support legalizing marijuana in Vermont, based on a poll from the Castleton Polling Institute; 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 actually more likely to oppose legalization than to support it, as illustrated in Figure 2. Sixty-two percent of Democrats favor legalization, as compared to only 23 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of Independents. Republican opposition to legalization extends across all age groups, with 79 percent of Republicans from 18 to 44 years old opposed to legalization; however, Democrats aged 65 and older are evenly split on the issue, 48 percent favoring legalization and 48 percent opposed. 

When asked how strongly they feel about support or opposition to legalized marijuana, Vermonters who oppose legalization had slightly stronger opinions on the issue than those who favor legalization.  While 52 percent of those who support legalization said that they feel very strongly about their position, 66 percent of those who oppose legalization feel very strongly (p < .05). 

A majority of Vermonters (73 percent), say that they are following “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 is stable; in other words, there is no relationship between one’s support for legalization and one’s propensity to follow the news about marijuana.

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 for support of legalization is the revenue that would be generated from the economic activity, and the taxing thereof, that would accompany legalization (from 36 percent of those who favor legalization).  Apart from the revenue argument, the next most common reasons given by supporters were related to the relief to our criminal system (19 percent) and that marijuana is no more dangerous than other legalized 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, (but) 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 that 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 responded simply argued 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, (and) I do not believe the financial benefits would be there.”

Support for legalizing marijuana in Vermont remains consistent since asked by Castleton in a general population survey in Vermont in May 2014, when 57 percent favored legalization. On a national scale, 52 percent 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.[1] 

Childhood Immunization

On another topic, Vermonters do not think that the schedule of childhood immunizations should be optional and left to parents to decide what is best for their family.  Additionally, a majority believes 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 exemptions to vaccinations and public schools’ authority to exclude unvaccinated children—the poll randomly assigned some respondent to one question and the remainder of the respondents to the other question.  Consequently, no respondent was asked both questions.  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 data in this report were collected by phone between February 9 – 24, 2015, by the Castleton Polling Institute using live interviewers.  Phone numbers were drawn from a dual frame sample of cell phone and landline numbers.  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.

[1] Data extracted from Accessed online on March 13, 2014. 

Result Tables