The annual “Doyle poll” that will be available at town meetings across the state this Tuesday is intended to take the pulse of Vermonters on the hot political issues of the day, and one of the questions this year is already generating controversy.
Sen. Bill Doyle, a Washington County Republican, first used the survey as a freshman lawmaker in 1969 to gauge Vermonters’ opinions about a major proposal to enact a sales tax, and he has used the survey every year since.
The unscientific yet entertaining survey has a question this year about building wind turbines on Vermont ridgelines. Utility-scale wind power has been the focus of explosive debates in the last year, particularly when it comes to a project in Lowell being developed by Green Mountain Power.
One of the 14 questions on the Doyle survey is straightforward enough: “Should wind turbines be built on Vermont ridgelines?”
But a group that opposes the Lowell project has linked the Doyle survey question to an ad campaign launched recently by Renewable Energy Vermont, a trade association for clean energy businesses.
A group called “Ridge Protectors” that opposes the Lowell project said in a news release this week that the “feel good” television advertising campaign by Renewable Energy Vermont is designed to influence Vermonters so they check the “yes” category on the Doyle survey’s wind power question.
“Senator Doyle’s survey is something we look to as an indicator of Vermonters’ opinions on issues of the day – not how much Vermonters have been moved by advertising,” Steve Wright, one of the most vocal opponents of the Lowell project, said in a news release.
Gabrielle Stebbins, the executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont, said the ads are not designed to sway the Doyle survey results.
“Certainly not,” she said. “Realistically, there has been pretty much a one-sided debate by a variety of players about wind, and REV just really felt it was critical that some of the erroneous and false statements be corrected.”
Asked about the timing of the ads, Stebbins said “it’s more an issue of when we’ve been able to get to work on the project.”
She added that government reports that favor wind power have come out just recently.
Other Doyle survey questions this year ask Vermonters if they think Gov. Peter Shumlin is doing a good job, whether people are optimistic about the future of Vermont and the nation, and whether possessing small amounts of marijuana should continue to be a crime.
His poll may be unscientific, Doyle said, but he believes it reflects Vermonters’ views given the large number of responses he gets.
“I really believe in general when you do 15,000 you’re really getting a reflection of the state of Vermont ,” said Doyle.
Doyle also argued there’s “nothing magic about professional polls,” pointing to a flawed poll during the gubernatorial race between Jim Douglas and Doug Racine in 2002.