Poll: More Voters Worry About Economy


Massachusetts voters have economic issues on their minds, according to a poll the Fiscal Alliance Foundation released Thursday.

The conservative foundation's poll, conducted from June 1-5 by Jim Eltringham of the Virginia-based Advantage, Inc., surveyed 750 likely voters on issues involving taxes, their opinions on President Biden and the governor's race.

[Another JUST RELEASED Poll says Americans are changing or scrapping vacation plans due to gas costs.]

Eltringham said the "real driver of this survey, the thing that makes everything about it make a lot of sense, is when you look at the way people feel about ... the economic anxiety issues, the jobs and economy, taxes and inflation."

"That suite of issues really deals with people worrying about themselves, their family and the financial future of those around them -- and the financial present for those around them -- and I don't think there's anywhere in the country where that's not something that's being discussed, and it shows up here in these numbers," he told reporters.

About 21 percent of voters labeled jobs and the economy as the most important issue behind their vote for governor, with 13.7 percent picking climate change, 13 percent taxes, 12.3 percent health care, 12.1 percent inflation and 11.3 percent "something else."

Almost 55 percent of respondents were not enrolled in a political party, more than 35 percent were Democrats and 10 percent Republicans.

Rather than dividing the candidates for governor by their party, the poll asked all participants which of the four contenders they would pick if the election were held today, giving them a choice among Democrats Sonia Chang-Diaz and Maura Healey and Republicans Geoff Diehl and Chris Doughty.

The bulk of respondents -- 60 percent -- either didn't know or were undecided. Twenty-six percent picked Healey, with almost 12 percent for Diehl, 1.33 percent for Chang-Diaz and 0.93 percent for Doughty. Healey, the attorney general, led among Democrats and unenrolled voters who had candidate preferences and was the choice for 8 percent of the Republicans, behind Diehl's 33.33 percent.

Fiscal Alliance Foundation spokesperson Paul Craney flagged that the number of undecided voters increased from 50 percent in the group's last similar poll, fielded in March. He called that a "pretty pronounced swing."

Craney said he believes the increase in undecided voters, combined with a greater share of voters labeling taxes, inflation, jobs and the economy as their top issue than in the past poll, shows a "strong undercurrent of economic anxiety."

With Massachusetts on track for another significant revenue surplus when the fiscal year concludes at the end of this month, top Democrats in the Legislature have indicated interest in pursuing some sort of tax relief, with an eye towards helping vulnerable populations and those most affected by COVID-19. While they have not put forward specific plans with less than two months of formal lawmaking sessions left for the year, House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka have ruled out the possibility of a gas-tax suspension.

After mentioning rising gas prices, fuel tax pauses in other states, and Spilka and Mariano's opposition to such a policy here, the poll asked voters if Massachusetts should temporarily suspend its gas tax. Sixty-eight percent said yes, and 18 percent no.

The poll also asked about a proposed constitutional amendment on November's ballot that would impose a new 4 percent surtax on annual income above a $1 million threshold, on top of the state's 5 percent income tax. Democrats in the Legislature advanced the measure as a way to raise money for education and transportation.

The poll described the amendment as one that would "raise the income tax from 5 to 9 percent, which represents an 80 percent increase, on some earnings from high-income earners and middle-class small businesses." It found about 69 percent respondents opposed, with about 20 percent in support and 11 percent unsure.

Other polls have found high levels of support for the surtax at various points, and wording differs among the surveys.

A MassINC Polling Group survey, conducted last December, found 69 percent in support of the amendment and 21 percent opposed. That poll said the proposal "would create an additional 4% tax on the portion of someone's income over $1 million a year," with the minimum amount to trigger the tax rising annually with inflation and the money collected "dedicated to transportation and public education."

In the Fiscal Alliance Foundation's poll, Eltringham said the goal was to "try to get kind of a baseline understanding using language that was as neutral as we could come up with."

"If you have unlimited time to talk to people on the phone, you could ask the question about eight different ways and see different angles of it," he said.

The Supreme Judicial Court last month heard arguments in a case challenging the summary of the surtax that Attorney General Healey has prepared for voters. The lawsuit takes issue with the summary's statement that "Revenues from this tax would be used, subject to appropriation by the state Legislature, for public education, public colleges and universities; and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges, and public transportation," and seeks to order that ballot materials tell voters that lawmakers could choose to reduce education and transportation funding from other sources and use the surtax revenue to replace it.

Craney is among the plaintiffs in that suit, and the Fiscal Alliance Foundation sponsored an amicus brief in the case authored by the Beacon Hill Institute.

Modeled after a similar question posed to New Yorkers earlier this year, the foundation polled voters on whether they are considering or have made plans to leave Massachusetts and reside somewhere else.

Almost 25 percent said yes, and more than 75 percent said no. Among those who answered yes, "Taxes are too high" was the top reason, selected by 58 respondents, followed by the 41 who chose "Cost of living is too high."

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