Poll: western Mass. supports legalization of marijuana, less so charter school expansion 

Published: 4/15/2016 1:10:52 PM

On the heels of an announcement that Gov. Charlie Baker is launching a statewide campaign against marijuana legalization, a new survey conducted last week by the Western New England University Polling Institute found overwhelming support for legalization among western Massachusetts respondents.

The institute found more support for marijuana legalization locally than statewide — 64 percent of those surveyed in western Massachusetts expressed support versus 57 percent statewide.

The survey, which polled 497 Massachusetts residents by telephone, showed statewide support for the expansion of charter schools in the commonwealth was stronger than in western Massachusetts. Across the commonwhealth, 51 percent responded favorably to a proposal for the state to approve up to 12 new charter schools or expansions of existing charter schools. Twenty-six percent of voters opposed the idea and 23 percent were undecided. Among lower-income respondents, support for charter expansion was higher — of those with annual household incomes of less than $35,000, 60 percent supported the charter school plan, while only 17 percent were opposed.

Support for charter school expansion was lower in western Massachusetts, where 41 percent of respondents expressed support, 33 percent oppose expansion and 25 percent didn’t know.

Tim Vercellotti, political science professor and director of the institute, said the results show Baker has a long haul ahead of him in his attempts to sway voters against marijuana.

“These views are pretty baked,” Vercellotti said. “This is an issue that’s been around for a while, and there’ve been two other ballot questions that have loosened restrictions on marijuana and each of them passed overwhelmingly. So the governor has a big challenge ahead of him.”

A majority of Republican voters, however, opposed the idea, 58 to 35 percent. Among voters under 40, 74 percent backed legalization, compared to 54 percent of those ages 40 to 54 and 43 percent of voters age 65 and older.

The institute found voters more readily had opinions on marijuana legalization, yet one in four voters said they didn’t know whether they would support charter school expansion — 56 percent of respondents reported they were following the charter school issue “not very closely” or “not at all closely.”

“The large percentage of ‘don’t knows’ suggest that those opinions may be not be strongly held and could be subject to big changes in the coming months,” Vercellotti said. These results laid the groundwork for more polling the institute will conduct closer to the election.

“What I wanted to do was lay down some baseline numbers so when we do additional polling in the fall, we can track changes in responses,” he said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.

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