A Poll Shows the Nurse Staffing Ballot Question Is a Toss-Up

Looks like it could go either way.

photo via iStock.com/PeopleImages

From the start, the nurse staffing ballot question that will confront voters in November has been a difficult one to parse. The proposal would set new limits on how many patients can be assigned to a nurse, which would vary depending on the circumstances but come with steep penalties if violated.

The transformative change would, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association, make patients more safe and the job much less exhausting and burdensome. But if you ask hospitals, they’ll tell you the opposite: Wait times would skyrocket, it would hamstring medical professionals, and it would be so expensive a standard to meet that it might force hospitals to jack up prices, deeply cut costs, or even close their doors (proponents of the law accuse them of deceiving voters to scare them).

So if you want what’s best for the state’s vaunted hospitals, their patients, and their staff, what are you supposed to do?

Turns out a lot of voters still don’t know.

A new poll gauging support for the ballot question has found that the state is essentially tied on the contentious, and confusing, proposal. WBUR and MassInc find support is at 44 percent for both the “yes” and “no” camps, with 12 percent undecided.

That makes it a dead heat, and it means the (expensive) battle for public opinion has only just begun. If you’ve been anywhere near a TV over the past several weeks, you’ve been on the front lines of that fight. Ads addressing the issue been airing pretty much constantly, and both sides are doing everything they can to convince you that nurses are on their side, by featuring nurses prominently in their scrubs, looking into the camera, and either vouching for or condemning the proposal. One respondent to the survey said she found the ads “confusing,” and she is definitely not the only one.

An earlier Boston Globe/Suffolk poll earlier this month found more support for the question (51 percent in favor to 33 percent opposed).

In a development that might tip the balance in the coming weeks, the Boston Globe reports today that the Health Policy Commission has for weeks been working on an analysis of the ballot question. A supposedly neutral arbiter of the question, the commission promises to produce a nonpartisan prediction about what might happen if voters pull the lever for Question 1 on November 6. The report will be presented October 3, according to the Globe.