With no fanfare, this year marked the 50th year of the Doyle Poll. Senator Bill Doyle of Washington County initiated the poll in 1969, his first year in state legislature. That year, with the legislature considering instituting a statewide sales tax in lieu of raising the VT income tax, Senator Doyle conducted a survey to gauge the opinion of his district. That winter he sent a letter to every 20th person on the voter checklist in Washington County asking for feedback on that question. From that first survey, Senator Doyle was surprised to learn of voters' support for the sales tax. And the poll expanded in scope and scale from there.
Senator Doyle served in the State House through 2016 and, as a 91-year old, still composes the questions to the survey. The last week of February hundreds of copies of the Doyle Poll magically appear on the State House desks of state representatives to deliver to their Town Meetings. The week after Town Meeting, Jim and I pick up the completed town surveys from the Town Clerks in Norwich, Sharon, Strafford, and Sharon. The results usually are released in early-April. You can find the complete 2018 Doyle Poll results for our towns for here.
Of the 15 questions in this year's survey, the ones that elicited the strongest responses locally were these five:
#1 Are you concerned about the VT opioid crisis? 98.3% yes; 0.4% no; 1.3% not sure
#13 Do you believe that VT values are a reason that many people choose to live in VT?
86.9% yes; 6.3% no; 6.8% not sure
#14 Should we reduce VT's prison population by using alternatives for non-violent offenders?
84.9% yes; 3.3% no; 11.7% not sure
#9 Should VT have paid family leave? 82.5% yes; 4.7% no; 12.8% not sure
#3 Should VT increase the minimum wage? 81.6% yes; 7.3% no; 11.1% not sure
I've gone back and looked at most of the 50 Doyle surveys done over the years. It's a fascinating archaeological dig into VT's political and policy history over the past half century. Here are a few of my favorite questions and how they polled statewide:
1971 #3: GUN CONTROL (choose one) Do you favor a law that would (a) require the licensing of persons carrying guns? (27%); (b) prohibit the the carrying of concealed guns without a permit (22%); (c) prohibit mental defectives and persons convicted of a felony from carrying guns? (35%); (d) no gun control (16%).
1973 #1: Do you believe that the State should prevent the large scale development of privately held land? 68% yes; 22% no; 10% undecided
1974 #10: How would you rate the performance of President Nixon? 7% excellent; 16% good; 18% fair; 55% poor; 3% undecided
1974 #14: Express your preference for....U.S. Senate. 59% Richard Mallary; 41% Patrick Leahy
1975 #14: Should alternative sources of energy such as windmills, solar panels, etc., be exempt from local property tax? 66% yes; 22% no; 12% undecided
1977 #14: Should the drinking age be raised to 19 years? 49% yes; 40% no; 11% undecided
1977 #16: Should smoking in public buildings be restricted to certain areas? 82% yes; 15% no; 3% undecided
1978 #4: Should funds to support the public schools come primarily from a local INCOME TAX [instead of property taxes]? 44% yes; 42% no; 14% undecided
1978 #10: Do you believe the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana should be subject to a fine not to exceed $100 rather than a jail sentence? 64% yes; 28% no; 8% undecided
1981 #4: Should Vermont adopt a law which bans opening alcoholic beverage containers within a vehicle? 59% yes; 37% no; 4% undecided
1983 #6: Do you believe that the state should require that people transporting children under 4 years of age secure them with a child restraint seat? 57% yes; 37% no; 6% undecided
1983 #8: Should a law be adopted to a put a cap on hospital health care costs? 75% yes; 14% no; 11% undecided
1984 #8: Do you believe that all automobile owners should be required to carry mandatory insurance? 80% yes; 13% no; 7% undecided
1986 #5: Should the leg-hold trap be outlawed? 56% yes; 33% no; 11% undecided
1986 #6: Should VT re-enact a death penalty statute? 53% yes; 36% no; 11% undecided
1987 #6: Should the State require that wealthy towns share their property tax base with less wealthy towns? 37% yes; 48% no; 15% undecided
1988 #8: Should the State fund a plan providing health insurance to all uninsured Vermonters? 40% yes; 46% no; 14% undecided
1989 #10: Should employers be required to allow unpaid leave for maternity, adoption, or family illness? 59% yes; 32% no; 9% undecided
1989 #14: Should the Legislature prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation? 63% yes; 28% no; 9% undecided
1990 #1: Should the Legislature ban disposable diapers? 45% yes; 42% no; 13% undecided
1990 #3: Should the Legislature ban styrofoam coffee cups and foam burger boxes? 76% yes; 19% no; 5% undecided
1993 #13: Should the State negotiate a statewide teachers' contract? 41% yes; 41% no; 18% undecided
1996 #3: Should VT increase the student:teacher ratio as a way to reduce local school budgets? 47% yes; 45% no; 8% undecided
1998 #8: Should the VT Legislature authorize same sex marriages? 32% yes; 61% no; 7% undecided
1998 #14: Do you believe Governor Dean would make a good presidential candidate? 20% yes; 61% no; 19% undecided
2002 #2: Should body piercing in the State of VT be prohibited for minors under 16? 64% yes; 29% no; 7% undecided.
2004 #6: Should windmills be built on VT ridgelines? 56% yes; 23% no; 21% undecided
2005 #1: Should the VT drinking age be returned from 21 to 18? 33% yes; 62% no; 5% undecided
2007 #6: Are statewide cell service and broadband important to the future of VT's economy? 82% yes; 8% no; 10% undecided
2012 #6: Are you optimistic about the future of VT? 62% yes; 23% no; 15% undecided
2012 #7: Are you optimistic about the future of our nation? 35% yes; 39% no; 26% undecided
2012 #9: Do you support the federal law which requires everyone to have health insurance? 48% yes; 38% no; 14% undecided
I'm struck by how certain issues entered our state's policy conversation sometimes decades before the issue was resolved. It's also interesting thinking back on a time when it was debatable whether it was okay to drive a car with a toddler not in a car seat, or whether it was okay to drive with an open can of beer in your hand. I hear from some veteran legislators that those were very intense debates in the State House.
Above: Main Street in Norwich in late-January celebrating the 2017 Women's March anniversary.
Right: with Dan Fraser at the 19 Days of Norwich grilled cheese & tomato soup luncheon.
Right: a group of students from Thetford Academy in the Senate chamber for the debate on gun legislation in February.
Above: This year's Strafford Town Meeting. It's always the last of the four Town Meetings that Jim and I attend and the potluck lunch and historical setting make it a great concluding event.
Above and Right: My youngest son, Mack, served as a legislative page in the State House from mid-February through the end of March. It was take-your-son-to-work day every day for me. Wonderful experience.