Survey: Two-thirds favor gay-rights law
By Steven G. VeghA new independent survey shows that nearly two-thirds of Mainers polled this month would vote to uphold the state's gay-rights law if the vote were held now.
©Copyright 1998 Guy Gannett Communications
The survey result is nearly identical to the result of an October survey that asked a similar question.
Both surveys were done by Strategic Marketing Services of Portland, which asks Mainers' opinions every three months on a range of economic, business and public policy issues.
The statewide ballot on Feb. 10 will ask voters if they want to rescind the gay-rights law approved last spring by the Legislature and signed by the governor. The law forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in credit, housing, employment and public accommodations.
Strategic Marketing Services polled 450 registered voters selected at random from across the state between Jan. 16 and 20. The results were released Wednesday.
The survey shows that 62 percent of Mainers would support the law. Twenty-nine percent would oppose it, and 9 percent were undecided.
The poll had a margin of error of 4.6 percent.
Last October, 65 percent of those polled said they would vote in favor of gay rights. Twenty-eight percent said they would vote against the law, and 7 percent were undecided.
Though the latest poll shows a slight decline in support for the law and a slight increase in opposition, the difference is statistically insignificant, said Nicole Clavette, the research analyst who supervised the surveys.
Mainers' unchanged attitudes suggest that voters are unswayed by any campaigning and publicity surrounding the referendum.
But that doesn't bother spokesmen for the rival campaigns. Both said Wednesday that their goal has never been to win Mainers over to their point of view.
Instead, Maine Won't Discriminate, which supports gay rights, and Yes for Equal Rights, which wants to overturn the law, are focusing on getting their supporters to vote in large numbers on Feb. 10.
''We haven't been waging a campaign to persuade the middle group of people who may not be thinking about this issue,'' said Michael Heath of Yes for Equal Rights.
Although the surveys show that a majority of Mainers agree with Maine Won't Discriminate, Joe Cooper, a spokesman for the group, called the polling meaningless.
''Those numbers don't mean anything if people don't go out and vote,'' he said.
The survey did not ask people whether they intended to vote on Feb. 10.
Heath said his group has long been unhappy with the wording of the ballot question, and believes the wording affects the way people respond to the survey question.
The ballot question asks, ''Do you want to reject the law passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation with respect to jobs, housing, public accommodations and credit?''
Rejecting discrimination is a basic American principle, Heath said, so the wording of the ballot question makes it more likely that voters will react to ''discrimination'' than to the issue of legal rights for homosexuals.
This month's survey found that Mainers' attitudes toward the referendum differ depending on where they live in the state.
Strongest support for gay rights was found in southern Maine, where 70 percent of respondents said they would vote to uphold the law.
The same view was held by 57 percent of people in central and western Maine, and by 58 percent of people Down East and in northern Maine.
The poll also showed that, among people who had at least a college education, 74 percent would vote to uphold gay rights. Only 57 percent of people with a high school education or less felt the same way.
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