MONTPELIER — A new Castleton Polling Institute poll commissioned by Vermont Public Radio has provided disheartening numbers for the two Democratic candidates in the gubernatorial race, while Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott is soaring.
The Vermont primary to select major party gubernatorial candidates will not be held until Aug. 9, but the poll results released Monday show that the two declared Democratic candidates — former Agency of Transportation Secretary Sue Minter and Matt Dunne, a former Windsor county state senator — are at a significant disadvantage in the early going in their quest to succeed Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin.
Among the 895 Vermonters polled, Minter was selected by just 11 percent as their preferred Democratic candidate. Dunne, meanwhile, was the choice of 19 percent. A 51 percent majority said they were not sure or did not know who they preferred and 18 percent said neither.
Those dismal numbers do not improve much when only the respondents who identified as Democrats are included. Minter received 15 percent support from Democrats, while Dunne had 21 percent. Again, a majority — 58 percent — said they were not sure or did not know who they preferred, and 6 percent supported neither candidate.
Among independents, Minter had 11 percent support while Dunne had 21 percent support.
On the Republican side, Scott was preferred by 42 percent over former Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman, who has just 4 percent support, according to the poll. Among Republican respondents, Scott’s support jumps to 67 percent, while Lisman rises to 7 percent. Independents chose Scott over Lisman by a 50 percent to 40 percent margin.
The poll questions were answered by 258 Democrats, 322 independents and 118 Republicans. Another 145 identified as “other.”
All 895 respondents were also asked if they knew who they hope will be elected governor. A majority of 51 percent said they did not know, 29 percent said they did no, and 20 percent said they were not sure or had no opinion.
Among the 67 Republicans who said they did know, a whopping 91 percent said they hope Scott is the next governor, while just 9 percent said they hope Lisman is.
Among the 57 Democrats who said they know who they hope the next governor is, 42 percent said Minter while 40 percent said Dunne. In another troubling sign for Democrats, however, 23 percent said they hope Scott is the next governor and 3 percent hope Lisman is the next governor.
Scott also dominated among the 110 independents. Scott was the choice of 75 percent of them. Dunne was next with 12 percent, followed by Minter with 8 percent and Lisman with 2 percent.
The good news for the Democrats and Lisman is that most Vermonters are not yet following the race. According to the poll, just 9 percent are watching the race “very closely,” and 25 percent “somewhat closely.” A plurality of 40 percent said they have followed “not too closely,” and 26 percent have not followed at all.
Nick Charyk, Dunne’s campaign manager, told the Vermont Press Bureau Monday he is not concerned by the early poll results.
“I’m very optimistic and excited, actually, about the numbers. It’s clear … that folks are just starting to pay attention to the gubernatorial race. We’re still being overshadowed by the presidential campaign,” Charyk said. “We are picking up traction around the state among people who are paying attention. I’m encouraged by that.”
Dunne had raised more than $100,000 for his campaign when financial disclosure reports were filed last July. He is expected to post another high number next month when new reports are due. Charyk said there will be “an opportunity to expand the discussion” with a more visible ad campaign when the legislative session ends in may.
“We will certainly be in the mix on the air and across all platforms,” he said. “We’re focused right now on the person to person conversations around the state … making sure that we give Vermonters from all over the state the opportunity to show up and ask the hard questions in person.”
Molly Ritner, Minter’s campaign manager, provided a statement Monday but declined to comment directly on the poll results.
“We are building a strong operation to make sure that every Vermonter hears Sue’s vision for our future,” Ritner said. “As governor, Sue will work to create more economic opportunity to keep young people in Vermont, create more livable wage jobs, and expand our clean energy economy. In short — Sue will make Vermont work.”
Shawn Shouldice, campaign manager for Lisman, said she is not concerned with Scott’s significant early advantage in the GOP primary. She said Scott has been in office for 15 years and is better known at this early stage of the campaign. Lisman, though, is the only candidate running television ads.
“This election cycle is barely started. We’re continuing to introduce Bruce to Vermonters. Bruce is continuing to meet with Vermonters. He’s getting very good feedback,” Shouldice said. “VPR pointed out themselves that 71 percent of their respondents hadn’t made a decision.
Shouldice also questioned whether the respondents would vote in the August primary and November general election. The poll did not seek to isolate “likely voters” in its sample. Likely voters are looking for a candidate that will veer from Shumlin’s policies, according Shouldice.
“I’m not a pollster, but I would say that the poll … doesn’t look reflective of primary voters nor maybe even general election voters,” Shouldice said. “We certainly know people are looking for someone other than a Shumlin-lite candidate. They are looking to move away from Shumlin’s policies.”
Scott’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.
Christina Amestoy, spokeswoman for the Vermont Democratic Party, said the poll results show there is “weak support” for Scott.
“This isn’t a slam dunk by any means by Phil Scott’s campaign,” she said. “Only 22 percent of voters overall are certain that they want Phil Scott in the governor’s office.”
Amestoy said the gubernatorial race has been competing for media attention with the presidential race and candidates are “in the early stages of retail politics.”
“Once the media’s attention starts to shift there will be a shift in the numbers,” she said. “I think that (the Democratic candidates) do have to get to the same name recognition that Phil Scott has. I think it’s just the nature of the candidates and what their background is.”
The poll also posed several policy questions, including whether Vermont should legalize marijuana. The Vermont Senate is currently considering legislation to do so. A 55 percent majority said the state should legalize pot, while 32 percent said it should not.
The issue is divided along party lines. Among Democrats, 61 percent believe marijuana should be legalized while 29 percent oppose it. Among Republicans the results are nearly opposite. Just 29 percent support it while 56 percent oppose it. Among independents, a 54 percent majority favor marijuana legalization while 33 percent oppose it.
Among the 458 people in the survey who support legalization, 47 percent feel “very strongly” that marijuana should be legalized and 42 percent feel “somewhat strongly.” Among the 316 respondents opposed to legalization, 54 percent feel “very strongly” and 30 percent feel “somewhat strongly.”
Vermonters also voiced strong support for the development of large solar arrays in their communities — 70 percent said they would support it while 18 percent said they would not. The issue was viewed favorably by a majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents.
When asked about large wind power turbines in their communities, a 56 percent majority said they would support it while 33 percent were opposed. Among Republicans, the issue was under water — 47 percent opposed it while 41 percent support large wind turbines. Democrats and independents supported it by majorities of 64 percent and 54 percent, respectively.
Vermonters’ views on health care reform could be a good sign for Democrats. All 895 poll respondents were queried about what they think should be done and provided several options. A plurality of 33 percent said the state should move forward with a single payer system like Medicare for all. Another large chunk, 20 percent, said Vermont should improve and continue with Vermont Health Connect, the state’s online health insurance marketplace that has suffered from technological problems since its launch in October 2013.
Just 8 percent said the state should discard the state exchange and move to the federal exchange. Another 19 percent said something else. Both Scott and Lisman have advocated for ditching VHC. Scott has advocated for a regional exchange with other states, while Lisman has said the state should join the federal exchange.