Exit Poll Examines Who Voted

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Thursday January 05, 2017

The first in a series summarizing November Election Day exit poll results

Many voters will recall being approached by college and high school students as they left the polls on November 8. This exit poll was part of a research project coordinated by a research class taught by Professor Vince Bolduc at Saint Michael’s College (SMC). The questions came from several meetings with South Burlington’s Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner and Don Cummings of the South Burlington Energy Committee. The South Burlington School Board added several of their own questions. There were 36 interviewers who covered all four city voting stations, 24 from SMC and 12 from South Burlington High School. 50 questions were asked of the 572 voters who took part in the survey.

Across the nation, as well as locally, a large proportion of the electorate voted early. In South Burlington, 35 percent of the votes were cast before November 8 and these early voters could not be included in exit polls. These early voters tend to be significantly older than those who go to the polls on Election Day, and in some precincts, the difference was notable. In the Chamberlin voting precinct, the average age of voting day voters was 48, while the average age of early voters in that district was 60.

It is well known that the national population is aging due to a combination of both low birth rates and baby boomers aging into the over age 65 category. Census data shows that just a short while ago, 12 percent of the nation was over age 65, but today the proportion is 14 percent and Vermont is already at the 16 percent mark, making us one of the oldest states in the country. South Burlington is up to 18 percent, just a tad below Florida’s 18.6 figure. The median age of South Burlington is nearly 43 years old, well above the 37.6 median for the nation.

Voter turnout in South Burlington is generally stronger than is typical in the rest of the nation, and often the rest of the state as well. The national turnout in this election was just above 55 percent, but it was 65 percent in Vermont and 76 percent in South Burlington. Vermont’s well known liberal political orientation only gave 29 percent of the popular vote to President-elect Trump, and just 20 percent in South Burlington.

South Burlington voters have a strong tendency to support liberal causes. The exit poll asked, “Do you usually think of yourself as a conservative, a liberal, an independent, or something else?” The results showed that only 12 percent selected the “conservative” reply, 49 percent said “liberal,” 30 percent said independent, and the remaining nine percent thought of themselves as “something else.” According to a similar Gallup question on a national survey, 38 percent selected conservative, 24 percent liberal, and 36 percent moderate, independent or “other.”

One may ask, “Why is South Burlington so liberal?” Part of the answer lies in the fact that South Burlington has a highly educated profile and support for liberal issues correlates with education. Consider these facts. Thirty percent of American adults hold a Bachelor’s degree, or higher. That proportion is significantly higher in Vermont; at 36 percent, this figure ranks us solidly near the top of the best educated states. But the Census tells us that in South Burlington, 54 percent of our adults possess a Bachelor’s degree or more. This fact alone would result in more support for liberal causes and candidates, but since voter participation typically increases with education, the percent of the voting electorate with Bachelor’s degrees is still higher. In the exit poll, 78 percent of the voters interviewed possessed a bachelor’s degree or higher. At the highest educational levels, it was found that 62 percent of voters with more than a Bachelor’s degree told us that they think of themselves as liberal, and only 8 percent think of themselves as conservative. This combination of characteristics partially explains South Burlington’s liberal political orientation.

Effective communication is essential to building and maintaining a community, so the poll asked three questions about where voters got their information: “How important are each of the following sources in keeping you up to date on important issues in South Burlington?” The traditional sources of information remain the most important, the local newspapers and television, with 58 percent calling these sources “very important.” “Word of mouth and one’s own social media” earned the “most important” vote from 30 percent of the population, and the city website and city run social media came in as least popular with just 15 percent. These choices are strongly influenced in a predictable manner by the age of the respondent. Reliance on traditional news outlets increases with age, and social media use decreases with age.

These findings represent just a few of the 50 questions asked in the exit poll. Subsequent articles will describe voter preferences on such topics as ratings for the schools, effectiveness of various issues in the Comprehensive Plan, and the perceived importance of various public priorities including City Center, attracting more businesses, and maintaining the tax rate. There were also questions about airport issues, building a city/UVM arena, and whether or not it is time to consider a mayoral system of governance.

SOURCE: Vince Bolduc, PhD, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Saint Michael’s College