Poll results demonstrate major shifts in attitudes

BY CATHY BROWN ’14
Staff Writer

The results of the most recent F&M Poll were released Feb. 7.

The poll surveyed 622 Pennsylvania voters, chosen randomly. Phone interviews were conducted between Jan. 29 and Feb. 3., and the poll has a sample error of +/- 3.9 percentage points.

The poll covers a variety of topics, ranging from Governor Corbett’s approval rating to potential privatization of the state lottery system.

Other questions addressed medical marijuana, gay marriage, state-owned liquor stores, and levels of gun control.

According to the poll, only 26 percent of Pennsylvania voters believe that Governor Corbett is doing an “excellent” or “good job,” with only 41 percent of Republicans, 26 percent of independents, and 16 percent of Democrats giving him a favorable approval rating.

“Governor Corbett is now in his third year of his first term and has indicated that he is seeking re-election,” said Dr. G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs and director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll. “Right now, he has the lowest approval ratings of a Pennsylvania governor in modern history.”
“Governor Corbett has issued a number of different policy issues that have not been very popular,” said Berwood Yost, director of the Floyd Institute for Public Policy, director of the Center for Opinion Research, and head methodologist of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll.

Among these, Yost cited cuts to education spending, as well as public perceptions of the relationship between Pennsylvania and the gas drilling industry.

In addition, some of Corbett’s more recent proposals have received fairly strong opposition. Sixty-four percent of voters oppose turning the management of the state lottery over to a private company, with 47 percent of these people strongly opposing the proposal.

“People are very opposed to this, which is very surprising,” Yost said. “Unpopularity of that degree was kind of a shock. I suspect that the issue is due to the way the lottery is perceived. All profits of the lottery benefit senior citizens. People are wondering if it’s right to turn the lottery over to a company that will want to develop profits from it.”

Another surprising result involved voters’ views on gay marriage.

According to the poll, 52 percent of those surveyed favor legalizing same-sex marriage, while 41 percent oppose it.
“This was pretty stunning to me,” Madonna said. “It’s the first poll in the state to show slight majority support for gay rights.”

Yost believes this change in opinion toward gay marriage is due to changes in opinion over a variety of demographics.

“Same-sex marriage has become more accepted within many groups,” Madonna explained. “Lots of demographic groups have changed their perspectives.”

The poll also asked for opinions about the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, with a majority of voters opposing legalization. In contrast, 82 percent of those polled favor medical marijuana that has been prescribed by a doctor.

Issues of gun control were also included in the poll.

“We found what most pollsters have found — that there is strong support for certain kinds of weapon control,” Madonna said.

Despite the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Madonna noted support for gun control in Pennsylvania did not significantly change.

“If you look at the long-term trend, people’s attitudes about gun laws have been pretty consistent over the years,” Yost noted.

In order to compare data results from various years, it is important that the pollsters follow a very specific process as they create and administer the poll. Yost described the method the Center uses.

The process begins with a discussion between Madonna and Yost about what topics to explore. Next, Yost writes a questionnaire and the staff does pre-testing. Then the interviewers are trained and a sample is drawn.

“We have a list of registered voters and a license to call them,” Madonna explained.

“Over the course of a week, we make calls to the people on our list,” Yost said. “As the interviewers are asking questions and entering responses, the data gets compiled centrally. I group the data according to demographics. Then the staff helps me prepare results and I write a report.”

The F&M Poll is conducted multiple times throughout the year, usually averaging about eight polls per year.

In addition, the Center for Opinion Research does polling for a variety of hospitals and research studies.

Various newspapers and television and radio stations use the results from the F&M Poll, including organizations in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Lancaster itself.

Although the Feb. 7 poll was statewide, the F&M Poll has also conducted research for the F&M campus and the Lancaster community.

It has conducted national polls and focused on presidential and Congressional elections.

The full results of the poll are available online at opinion.fandm.edu.

Questions? Email Cathy at cbrown2@fandm.edu.

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