Massachusetts Voters Split Nearly Evenly Over “Death With Dignity” Question
Posted November 5, 2012
Legalizing marijuana use for medical purposes continues to have strong support
The “death with dignity” ballot question faces an uncertain future in the election on Tuesday, while voters appear ready to approve legalizing marijuana use for medical purposes, according to the latest statewide telephone survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute.
The poll of 535 likely voters, conducted in partnership with The Republican newspaper of Springfield, MA and MassLive.com Oct. 26 through Nov. 1, found that 44 percent support allowing terminally ill patients to legally obtain medication to use to end their lives, while 42 percent are opposed. Fourteen percent of likely voters said they did not know or declined to answer the question.
Among all 644 registered voters who completed the survey, 43 percent back the “death with dignity” measure, while 44 percent are opposed. The samples of 535 likely voters and 644 registered voters have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percent.
Click here to view complete poll results.
Voters are much more bullish about a ballot question that would legalize the use of marijuana for medical reasons. Sixty-three percent support the idea, while 29 percent are opposed.
Public opinion about the “death with dignity” ballot measure has shifted significantly since the Polling Institute last asked about the issue in a statewide telephone survey conducted May 29-31. Registered voters supported the idea then by a margin of 60 percent to 29 percent.
“With Election Day approaching, as voters have focused on the measure, support has dwindled considerably,” said Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University. “What seemed like easy passage several months ago is now in question.”
Sentiment about the “death with dignity” ballot measure varies by partisanship, age and education. Democrats support the proposal by a margin of 54 percent to 35 percent, while Republicans are opposed 50 percent to 28 percent. Forty-six percent of independent likely voters also oppose the measure, while 40 percent are in favor.
Nearly half of likely voters under the age of 65 back the proposal, while just over one-third of those voters oppose it. Among likely voters ages 65 and older, however, 52 percent are against the measure, while 39 percent favor it.
Support for the “death with dignity” proposal increases by level of education. Only 25 percent of likely voters with a high school diploma or less favor the measure, compared to 44 percent of likely voters with some college and 49 percent of likely voters with college degrees.
Public attitudes also vary by religion and level of religious observance. The Catholic Church in Massachusetts has spoken out strongly against the proposal, and 51 percent of Catholic likely voters say they oppose the measure. The magnitude of the opposition varies among Catholics, however, depending on how frequently they attend religious services. Seventy-six percent of Catholic likely voters who attend services at least once a week or almost every week oppose the proposal, while the same is true of 38 percent of Catholics who attend services about once a month, seldom or never.
A similar divide exists among likely voters who identify themselves as members of Protestant denominations. Half of all Protestant likely voters oppose the “death with dignity” measure. Among Protestants who attend services at least once a week or almost every week, 76 percent are opposed, compared to 36 percent of Protestant likely voters who attend services about once a month, seldom or never.
Likely voters from other religious backgrounds support the proposal by a margin of 54 percent to 25 percent, and voters who identify themselves as atheists or agnostic back the measure by a margin of 90 percent to five percent.
Opinions about legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes also vary along the lines of partisanship, age and education. Seventy-three percent of Democrats support the idea, compared to 55 percent of Republicans and independents.
Support also is greater among younger voters. Eighty-six percent of likely voters ages 18 to 34 back the use of marijuana for medical purposes, while the same is true of 64 percent of voters ages 35 to 49, 59 percent of voters ages 50 to 64, and 52 percent of voters age 65 and over.
In terms of education, voters with college degrees were most likely to support legalizing medical marijuana, with 67 percent backing the idea. Fifty-nine percent of likely voters with some college support the measure, and 49 percent of voters with a high school diploma or less back the proposal.
Public sentiment about the issue has not changed significantly since the Polling Institute last measured opinions about medical marijuana in its May 29-31 survey. Sixty-three percent of all registered voters in the latest survey support legalizing medical marijuana, compared to 64 percent of registered voters in the May 29-31 survey.
The Western New England University Polling Institute survey consists of telephone interviews with 685 adults ages 18 and older drawn from across Massachusetts using random-digit-dialing Sept. 28 – Oct. 4, 2012. The sample yielded 644 adults who said they are registered to vote in Massachusetts, and 535 adults who are classified as likely to vote in the Nov. 6, 2012 general election. Unless otherwise noted, the figures in this release are based on the statewide sample of likely voters. The Polling Institute classified likely voters based on voters’ responses to questions about interest in the election, likelihood of voting in the election, ability to identify their polling place, and whether they reported voting in the 2008 presidential election.
The Polling Institute dialed household telephone numbers, known as “landline numbers,” and cell phone numbers for the survey. In order to draw a representative sample from the landline numbers, interviewers first asked for the youngest male age 18 or older who was home at the time of the call, and if no adult male was present, the youngest female age 18 or older who was home at the time of the call. Interviewers dialing cell phone numbers interviewed the respondent who answered the cell phone after confirming three things: (1) that the respondent was in a safe setting to complete the survey; (2) that the respondent was an adult age 18 or older; and (3) that the respondent was a resident of Massachusetts. The landline and cell phone data were combined and weighted to reflect the adult population of Massachusetts by gender, race, age, and county of residence using U.S. Census estimates for Massachusetts. Complete results of the poll are available online at www.wne.edu/news. The full text of the questionnaire for this survey is available at www1.wne.edu/pollinginst. Complete coverage of the poll by our media partners, The Republican and MassLive.com, can be found at www.masslive.com/politics/.
All surveys are subject to sampling error, which is the expected probable difference between interviewing everyone in a population versus a scientific sampling drawn from that population. The sampling error for a sample of 535 likely voters is +/- 4.2 percent at a 95 percent confidence interval. Thus if 60 percent of likely voters said they support legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes, one would be 95 percent sure that the true figure would be between 55.8 percent and 64.2 percent (60 percent +/- 4.2 percent) had all Massachusetts likely voters been interviewed, rather than just a sample. The margin of sampling error for the sample of 644 registered voters is +/- 3.9 percent at a 95 percent confidence interval. Sampling error increases as the sample size decreases, so statements based on various population subgroups are subject to more error than are statements based on the total sample. Sampling error does not take into account other sources of variation inherent in public opinion studies, such as non-response, question wording, or context effects.
Established in 2005, the Western New England University Polling Institute conducts research on issues of importance to Massachusetts and the region. The Institute provides the University’s faculty and students with opportunities to participate in public opinion research. Additional information about the Polling Institute is available at www1.wne.edu/pollinginst.
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