Dems Largely Unknown in Vermont Gubernatorial Race, Poll Shows | Off Message

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Dems Largely Unknown in Vermont Gubernatorial Race, Poll Shows


Gov. Phil Scott is the only candidate for governor who a majority of Vermonters have heard of, a new poll shows. - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Gov. Phil Scott is the only candidate for governor who a majority of Vermonters have heard of, a new poll shows.
Forty-three percent of Vermonters approve of first-term Republican Gov. Phil Scott's job performance, according to a new public opinion poll, while 28 percent disapprove. Scott's Democratic and Republican rivals, meanwhile, are struggling to gain traction ahead of the state's August 14 primary election — and remain largely unknown to those surveyed.

The poll, commissioned by Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS, is the first conducted by in-state media organizations since the 2016 election. For that reason, according to Castleton University professor Rich Clark, it's difficult to determine how and why Scott's popularity has waxed and waned during his first term.

“This is what we miss by not having some regular polling in the state,” said Clark, who ran the Castleton Polling Institute until the university shut it down in March.

The public media poll surveyed 603 Vermonters on landlines and cell phones between July 6 and July 16. Its margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent, though the margin is greater for sub-groups of data, such as political party affiliation. VPR and Vermont PBS hired Clark to craft the questions and analyze the data; New Jersey-based Braun Research made the calls.

The poll suggests that Scott has little to fear in the August primary. Seventy-two percent of those surveyed had never heard of his sole Republican opponent, Springfield grocer Keith Stern. Among Republican voters, 10 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Stern, while 2 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion.

The four Democratic gubernatorial candidates on the ballot are also largely unknown. Fifty-nine percent said they had never heard of former Vermont Electric Coop CEO Christine Hallquist. More than 70 percent were unfamiliar with her primary-election rivals: Southern Vermont Dance Festival director Brenda Siegel, Lake Champlain International executive director James Ehlers and 14-year-old Ethan Sonneborn of Bristol.

Of those who disapprove of Scott's performance in office, one demographic group stood out: members of his own political party. While 49 percent of Republicans approved of his job performance, 35 percent did not. That's a higher disapproval rating than among independents (50-24 percent) and Democrats (41-28 percent).

While the poll didn’t ask Vermonters why they approve or disapprove of a politician’s performance, one explanation for the Republican discontent could be Scott's advocacy for a new Vermont gun law. Scott's high-profile reversal of his previous position drew backlash this spring from gun-rights advocates who supported his candidacy in 2016.

In April, Scott publicly signed a law that requires background checks for all gun sales, limits the size of ammunition magazines, bans bump stocks and raises the legal age for purchasing a gun to 21.

Of the 146 Republicans surveyed in the public media poll, 52 percent said they oppose the new law, while 43 percent said they supported it. But the gun-control legislation found broad support from the population at large.

Sixty-seven percent of Vermonters favor the law — including 45 percent who "completely favor it" — while only 25 percent oppose it. Among Democrats, 84 percent support it and 11 percent oppose it; among independents, 60 percent support it and 25 percent oppose it.

The VPR/Vermont PBS poll shows majority support for stalled legislative efforts to establish a regulated retail marijuana system in Vermont. While most of those surveyed (56 percent) said they aren’t likely to use recreational marijuana in the next year, a majority (56-31 percent) said they support a retail system.

The poll also showed overwhelming support for raising Vermont's minimum wage. Fifty-four percent said they favored increasing the state's $10.50 minimum wage to $15 over time, while another 25 percent said they supported increasing it by a lesser amount. Only 15 percent said they outright opposed raising the minimum wage. Scott vetoed legislation that would have raised the wage to $15 an hour.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who faces reelection this fall, is the most popular member of the state’s congressional delegation, the poll found. Sixty-six percent of those surveyed said they approve of his job performance, while 24 percent said they do not.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who is nearly two years into his eighth term in the Senate, has the approval of 53 percent of Vermonters surveyed and the disapproval of 19 percent. Rep. Peter Welch’s (D-Vt.) approval rating is at 47 percent, while 17 percent disapprove. He faces reelection this year.

Vermonters appear less supportive of their president. Twenty-eight percent of those surveyed said they approve of President Donald Trump's job performance, while 61 percent said they disapprove.

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