For 41st year, Doyle will issue his Town Meeting survey

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(Host) For the 41st year in a row, Washington County senator Bill Doyle will be conducting his Town Meeting survey.

The results this year could provide information about trends on issues such as same sex marriage, the gas tax and Governor Douglas’s approval ratings.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Doyle launched his survey in the winter of 1969. He was a first term senator and wanted to gauge how his constituents felt about Governor Deane Davis’s plan to impose a sales tax to help eliminate a growing budget deficit.

Over the past 4 decades he’s asked hundreds of different questions. Roughly 12 thousand people fill the surveys out every year and while the survey isn’t scientific, its results have mirrored those of smaller professional polls.

In 2007, 48% of those responding to the survey were opposed to same sex marriage while 45% were in favor. But in 2008, the numbers changed – 54 % now expressed support for the bill while 37% were opposed.

Doyle is asking the question again this year to see if support has surged again. He says the atmosphere surrounding this issue in 2009 is very different from the debate over civil unions ten years ago:

(Doyle) "I think so yes I do that was ten years ago and there was a real question whether the proponents were a threat to marriage as an institution and probably the experience is that it hasn’t."

Senate leaders will decide in the next two weeks if they’ll hold a vote on the same sex marriage bill this year. Doyle thinks it’s only a matter of time before the legislation becomes law:

(Doyle) "Ultimately same sex will be a reality I don’t know whether it will be this year I think it will be touch and go in the Legislature actually I wouldn’t be surprised if it passed."

Last year, 51% of those filling out the survey opposed a gas tax increase to repair the state’s roads and bridges. This plan has become a controversial issue at the Statehouse again this winter. Doyle thinks his constituents are divided about supporting it:

(Doyle) "Some do and some don’t it’s really mixed and I think the enthusiasm of the tax has softened a little bit about the fact that the stimulus dollars will be going right to roads and bridges."

In 2006 and 2007, the survey results gave Governor Jim Douglas a job approval rating of 50%. Last year, the governor’s rating fell to 42% and that’s why Doyle is asking the question again this year:

(Doyle) "Because it’s important to see in what direction are we going."

The initial results of the survey should be available in about two weeks.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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