Election Day Exit Poll Examines Voter Sentiments

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Thursday February 02, 2017

Fourth and final in a series of articles from the November Exit Poll conducted by Saint Michael’s College Professor Vince Bolduc’s research class on a variety of city topics.

Thirty six student interviewers from Saint Michael’s College and South Burlington High School asked 50 questions of 572 voters who took part in the Election Day survey. This article looks at voter sentiments about building a city/UVM arena and the possibility of moving to a mayoral system of governance. Also included are questions about whether or not the city should join with other municipalities to coordinate our municipal services and what steps voters have taken to conserve energy.

The Comprehensive Plan includes a great many long range goals towards which the city attempts to make progress on a year to year basis. We asked voters how well they thought the city had done in making progress “over the past two to three years” on these specific priorities:

• Affordable housing
• A transportation system with better walking and hiking connections
• Conservation of important open spaces and other resources
• Reducing energy consumption city-wide and increasing renewable energy production where appropriate.

The options were excellent, very good, fair or poor and the results are presented in the graph below. The percentages for fair and poor are not shown for the sake of simplicity, but the vast bulk of those residual responses fell into the fair category. For example, while only six percent of voters thought the city has made excellent progress on the goal of “the conservation of important open spaces and other resources,” 49 percent felt that there has been very good progress, 31 percent felt the progress has been fair. Only four percent felt that progress was poor.
It is obvious that citizens had higher praise for city progress in some areas than others and while the reasons for this are open to interpretation, we did find some interesting patterns between voters. For example, voters who reported that they had supported the TIF issue for the City Center also saw more progress in achieving all four of these goals - in some cases by a margin of almost 2:1. Likewise, voters who reported that they had attended at least one city meeting during the prior year, 30 percent said they had, were more likely to give higher ratings to progress on the goal of conservation of open spaces and the energy reduction goal. Perhaps this is a case of “the more voters know, the more supportive they are.” Age also had some impact on voter perception. Older voters had more positive views on the progress achieved on both the affordable housing and the energy reduction goals.

Voters were highly supportive of the possibility of the city’s joining with other communities to provide certain municipal services: 92 percent favored the idea and only eight percent opposed it. The verbatim question was as follows, “If it were efficient and maintained our level of service, would you be willing for the city to join with a neighboring town to share certain municipal services, such as we do now with water treatment?” Support was strongest from those with the highest levels of formal education.

The idea of a City/UVM arena was also supported by a clear majority of voters. The exact phrasing was, “If it did not involve an increase in property taxes, do you think that the city should actively pursue a new City/UVM arena on the University Mall property?” The idea was supported by 62 percent of voters and opposed by 38 percent.

Voters were evenly divided on the question of moving towards a mayoral system of leadership. Here is how we asked the question, “South Burlington is presently led by a five-member city council. Some people have suggested that it may be time to consider changing to a system that would include an elected mayor like they have in Winooski or Burlington. How about you? Do you think we should keep the present system or consider a system more actively governed by a mayor?” Voter opinion was split, 51 percent wish to keep the present system and 49 percent wish to consider the change. Student interviewers reported that this question, more than any other, caused respondents to stop and reflect for a long moment before replying.

Finally, our 36 interviewers asked our 572 voters whether or not they had “…taken any steps in the past year to conserve energy,” and 91 percent reported that they had. Asked whether they had taken “small steps like changing lightbulbs or a shower head,” 95 percent said yes. Yet 59 percent also reported that their efforts were “big steps like buying a more efficient car, car-pooling, or putting in new insulation in [their] house.” Even “major steps like adding solar collectors or moving closer to your work” were reported by 25 percent of respondents.

We wish to conclude this series of articles with heartfelt thanks to City Planner Paul Conner, Energy Committee member Don Cummings, and the 572 voters who were willing to take 10 minutes out of their busy Election Day to speak with our student interviewers. We hope that the information collected will be useful to the city. It was an excellent experience for our students not only in how to conduct legitimate surveys, but also in affirming the ideals of good citizenship. We expect that throughout their lives these students will be a little more attentive to the importance of voting and all the work that goes into building a good community such as ours.

SOURCE: Vince Bolduc, PhD, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Saint Michael’s College