Jump to Footer

Massachusetts Voters Back Marijuana Legalization, More Charter Schools

THURSDAY, APRIL 14, 2016 - 12:00 AM Polling Institute

New Survey Finds Majority Support Both Proposed Ballot Questions

The latest telephone survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute finds that a majority of voters support ballot questions to legalize marijuana and to add or expand charter schools in Massachusetts.

The statewide survey of 497 registered voters, conducted April 1-10, found that 57 percent backed legalizing marijuana for use by individuals ages 21 and older, while 35 percent were opposed and seven percent were undecided.

On the charter school question, 51 percent of voters said they would support a proposal for the state to approve up to 12 new charter schools or expansions of existing charter schools each year. Twenty-six percent of voters opposed the idea, and 23 percent were undecided.

Charter schools are independent public schools that operate under charters granted by the state, and are funded with tax dollars. Such schools can develop their own curriculum and hire and fire teachers and staff, but must show good results within five years or risk losing their charter, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The state has limited the number of charters that it will issue, and supporters of charter schools are seeking to raise the cap. Proponents say that charter schools can provide an alternative for students whose local public schools are under-performing, while opponents say that charter schools drain much needed tax dollars from other public schools.

The state Legislature is attempting to resolve the charter school question with legislation to expand the number of charter schools, making a ballot initiative unnecessary. But Democratic lawmakers and Republican Governor Charlie Baker have yet to find common ground on the issue.

The marijuana legalization and charter school ballot questions are expected to generate significant political discussion in the state in the weeks leading up to the November general election. Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University, said that, with no U.S. Senate race on the ballot this year and a presidential race that may not be competitive in the state, a lot of political attention may focus on ballot initiatives.

"Voters may be hearing a great deal about these issues, particularly charter schools if that ballot question goes forward," Vercellotti said.

The Polling Institute’s latest survey found that voters were more likely to state an opinion on marijuana legalization, with only seven percent undecided and one percent declining to offer an opinion. On the other hand, almost one in four voters – 23 percent – said they did not know whether they would support or oppose the state creating new or expanding existing charter schools. When asked how closely they were following the charter school issue, more than half of voters – 56 percent – responded “not very closely” or “not at all closely.”

"There seems to be a lot of room to maneuver in terms of supporters and opponents shaping public opinion on the charter school issue," Vercellotti said. "There is the potential for these numbers to move in significant ways between now and November."

The marijuana legalization question would be the third statewide ballot question dealing with marijuana use in Massachusetts in recent years. Massachusetts voters approved a proposal to decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by a margin of 65 percent to 35 percent in 2008. Voters also approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes by a margin of 63 percent to 37 percent in 2012, according to the Elections Division in the office of the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth.

Voters responding to the latest Polling Institute survey split along familiar lines on the marijuana legalization question. Democrats favored legalization by a margin of 64 percent to 29 percent, and unenrolled voters backed the proposal by 55 percent to 36 percent. A majority of Republican voters, however, opposed the idea, by a margin of 58 percent to 35 percent.

Polling Institute surveys on the marijuana ballot questions in 2008 and 2012 showed only slight gender differences of about four points in each year, with men more likely to vote in favor. The latest survey, however, showed a larger gender difference, with 64 percent of men in favor of legalization compared to 51 percent of women.

As in previous election cycles, the latest survey found that support for easing marijuana restrictions was strongest among younger voters. Among voters ages 18 to 39, 74 percent backed legalizing marijuana, compared to 54 percent for those ages 40 to 54, 53 percent for those ages 55 to 64, and 43 percent for voters ages 65 and older.

Support for marijuana legalization also was higher in Western Massachusetts (64 percent) and in Boston and surrounding suburbs (60 percent), than on the North and South Shores (55 percent) and in Central Massachusetts (43 percent).

While support for the charter school ballot question outpaced opposition by a margin of almost two to one, opinions varied significantly along important dimensions. Among survey respondents who said they were following the issue "very closely," 49 percent supported the proposal and 47 percent were opposed. The gap grew among groups who said they were paying less attention to the issue. Those responding that they were following the issue "somewhat closely" supported the idea by a margin of 56 percent to 34 percent, while those who responded "not very closely" endorsed the idea 55 percent to 22 percent. Among respondents who responded "not at all closely" when asked how closely they were following the issue, 48 percent supported the proposal, 12 percent said they were opposed, and 39 percent said they did not have a position on the issue.

Views also varied along party lines, although in each category higher percentages of voters said they supported the plan than opposed the plan. Fifty-six percent of unenrolled voters backed the proposal, compared to 53 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Democrats. Opposition was highest among Democrats, with 34 percent opposed to the idea.

Views also varied slightly by race, with 57 percent of non-white voters supporting the plan compared to 51 percent of white voters. Yet opposition was also higher among non-white voters, at 33 percent compared to 24 percent of white voters.

The pattern of responses also varied by household income, with lower income respondents offering higher levels of support. Among respondents with annual household incomes of less than $35,000, 60 percent supported the charter school plan, while only 17 percent were opposed. Fifty-six percent of respondents with annual household incomes of $35,000 to just under $70,000 supported the idea, compared to 48 percent of respondents with annual household incomes of $70,000 to just under $100,000, and 49 percent of respondents with incomes of $100,000 or more. Opposition was greatest among respondents with annual household incomes of $100,000 or more, at 31 percent.

To view the full poll results click on "Tables" below.