|All seven phones in the Political Science Departments new Telephone
Research Center were in continual use during the evenings of October 12, 13, 14 and 15,
1998, as students from Professor Michael Aults Political Science Research
Methods class asked selected voters to share their thoughts about the approaching
election. Using a random sample of households in 42 southeastern Massachusetts cities and
towns designed by Political Science Professor Victor DeSantis, the students conducted a
total of 370 interviews with registered voters. They gathered responses to such questions
as the following:
This pre-election poll served both as a class project and as the fulfillment of a contract between the Colleges Institute for Regional Development and two area newspapers, the Brockton Enterprise and the Quincy Patriot Ledger. About 830,000 people, 14% of the Massachusetts population, live in Plymouth, Norfolk and Bristol counties, the area covered by the poll. Both newspapers published the results of the poll on October 23.
Area voters preferences turned out to be fairly close to those of the majority of voters in the state as a whole. The poll showed Paul Celluccis lead over Scott Harshbarger to be stronger locally than it proved to be in the rest of the Commonwealth. In the poll, Cellucci led by a margin of 46.2% to 34% (with 17.5% undecided), whereas the election result was much closer, Cellucci squeaking by with 51% of the vote while Harshbarger received 47%. The poll also revealed that Cellucci attracted more support than his rival from unenrolled voters, who make up half the electorate state-wide. Cellucci appealed to many registered Democrats; 28% of the Democrats polled expressed a preference for him, but only 2% of registered Republicans said they planned to vote for Harshbarger. While Cellucci won high approval for the states strong economy, one-third of those polled said they were troubled by his personal debt.
In other campaigns, too, area voters supported the candidates who ultimately won the election: for Treasurer, they favored Whitman resident Shannon OBrien and for Attorney General, Thomas Reilly.
When asked about issues, the respondents identified education as the top concern, with 87% listing it as a very important matter for the governor to deal with and another 11.2 % considering it somewhat important. When asked what they considered the single most important issue for the next governor and legislature to tackle, 51.8 % said education. Health care and the economy were the two other issues which proved to be most important to local voters.
The poll also addressed national issues. Close to 80% of respondents decisively rejected the idea of impeaching President Clinton, a significantly wider margin than in the nation as a whole. Almost as many local voters (77%) favored ending congressional hearings on the impeachment report of independent counsel Kenneth Starr. Of those voters, 33% wanted the matter dropped completely and 44% wanted the hearings to end but the president to be censured.
The poll also revealed that 53 % of area voters feel that the public has the right to know at least a little about a candidates private life. More than 15% of the respondents said the public should know a lot, while 31% said the public should know nothing about the private lives of the candidates.
Research on Current Issues
Undertaking research on current problems and issues is one way in which the Institute hopes to serve our region. In 1996, the Institute undertook a study of quality of life in southeastern Massachusetts, exploring the publics perception of such issues as health care, public schools and the environment. A Town Meeting Study conducted by Professor DeSantis in 1997 collected data from town clerks to answer questions about how their town meetings operate, the number of people who attend, and whether or not the meetings are televised. Students enrolled in the Colleges Masters of Public Administration program were involved in another study, sponsored by the town of Milford, focusing on the programs and policies used by the town to stimulate industrial development.
Meetings and Conferences
The meetings provide State Commissioner of Transitional Assistance Claire McIntire, who is also a member of the Task Force, with an opportunity to talk informally with grass-roots bureaucrats who work with welfare clients on a day-to-day basis. With the two-year benefit limit running out for approximately 12,000 Massachusetts welfare families, recent meetings have focussed on the barriers to gaining employment which this group faces. These barriers include lack of fluency in English for recent Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants, the difficulty of finding child care and lack of transportation. Task Force members discuss, often heatedly, ways of addressing these problems.
In addition, the Institute has sponsored training events, including workshops in computer applications for economic developers and the Massachusetts Municipal Management fall conference.
Bridgewaters Institute for Regional Development is continuing to develop creative projects which contribute to the intellectual life of southeastern Massachusetts.
Barbara Apstein is Associate Editor of the Bridgewater Review.