Will the Massachusetts Ballot Questions Be Close?

All four questions are fairly contentious, but not necessarily very competitive.

Photo by Kaitlyn Johnston

Photo by Kaitlyn Johnston

Voters will decide four ballot questions in November, all fairly contentious but not necessarily close.

Of course, it might only look that way before the big spending happens. But here’s how things appear to stand on the Massachusetts ballot questions with six weeks to go.

On Tuesday afternoon, we learned that a new MassINC/WBUR poll shows that voters support Question 4—imposing earned sick time rules on businesses—by a very wide margin: 56 to 25 percent, with 17 percent undecided. That’s not terribly surprising; this is one of those publicly popular measures, the possibility of a public vote on which was supposed to pressure the state legislature into passing it on its own.

Also not looking close is Question 2, expanding the state’s bottle deposit law. A Globe/SocialSphere poll last month showed that one with a whopping 62 percent in favor and 27 percent opposed.

Question 3, on repealing the 2011 casino law, appears headed in the opposite direction. The latest Globe/SocialSphere poll shows just 36 percent supporting repeal, and 55 percent wanting to keep the law in place. That’s consistent with other polls, including one from UMass-Lowell earlier this month showing voters wanting to keep the casino law by a 59-36 percent margin—although the new MassINC/WBUR poll showed a narrower 10-point difference.

The only one looking close in the early polling is Question 1, to repeal the gas tax indexing law. A MassINC/WBUR  last week found that measure trailing, with 45 percent against and 39 percent in favor.

It also appears that the anti-Q1 side will have a lot more money to spend, thanks to funding from contractors and others who like the state transportation funding that the gas tax will pay for. Repeal proponents have a great deal of grassroots enthusiasm, mostly among conservatives, but not a lot of funding, and, from what I’ve been able to tell so far, not an enormous wave of tax-revolt anger to ride.

The anti-casino forces also figure to be outspent—their repeal-measure PAC is already operating in debt—which will make it hard to make up the current margin. We’ve seen large shifts on ballot measures before: two years ago, an opposition campaign largely funded by the Catholic church reversed polling on a “Death With Dignity” measure, which was ultimately defeated. But it’s a little harder to see such a sharp reversal occurring on the three-year-old casino law, on which nearly everybody’s opinion is well-established by now.

Opponents of the earned sick time measure are marshaling their forces; a new PAC formed this week, chaired by the director of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB). But labor and progressive groups are looking like the big spenders, in a fight where they already have the huge advantage.

If there is one I’d consider most likely to flip in the next six weeks, it might be the one currently polling as the most lopsided: the bottle bill expansion. It’s a classic case (as was the Death With Dignity bill) of a change to current law that people respond well to in the abstract, but which they get cold feet as opponents highlight (and hyperbolize) the bill’s specifics. And the opponents, funded by retailers and beverage distributors, are putting in plenty of dough to get their criticisms out there.

But the truth is, any of these measures could be decided in the final two weeks, when the vast majority of the public arguments will be made, in both free and paid media.