Pubdate: Thu, 28 Oct 1999
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 1999, Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: A.J. Higgins, Of the News Staff


AUGUSTA - A new statewide poll released Wednesday concluded the outcome of a
proposed ban on late-term abortions in next week's referendum is simply too
close to call. Meanwhile the medicinal marijuana initiative continues to
retain strong support with three out of five voters surveyed supporting the

Conducted by Survey USA for the Bangor Daily News, WCSH 6 and WLBZ 2
television stations, the Newscenter Bullet Poll questioned 500 likely voters
Monday and Tuesday evening on the top two ballot questions.

The poll contained a 4.5 percent margin of error, rendering the close result
on the Question 1 abortion issue a statistical tie. Fifty-two percent of
those polled said they would oppose the so-called "partial-birth'' abortion
ban while 45 percent planned to vote for it. Only 2 percent of those
surveyed were undecided on the question.

Slightly more men than women favored the ban while slightly more women than
men opposed it. Voters over 55 also were slightly more likely to support the
ban than younger voters.

The question seeking to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana
for patients with specific illnesses, provided they have a doctor's
approval, was supported by 61 percent of those surveyed. Thirty-eight
percent opposed the question and only 1 percent were undecided.

Men and women split evenly on the marijuana issue while younger voters were
much more likely to vote in favor of the plant's medicinal use.

The two citizen initiatives on the Nov. 2 referendum have generated the most
interest on the ballot which also features five bond issues and two
constitutional amendments.

Mary Ellen Fitzgerald of the Portland polling firm Critical Insights
conducted a similar survey 10 days ago. At that time, the late-term abortion
question registered a higher undecided figure of nearly 10 percent with 40
percent opposed and 50 percent in favor.

"People tend to come to both of these questions with fairly strong ideas,"
Fitzgerald said. "I think you'll see a little more fluctuation on the
marijuana question now that the Maine Medical Association is becoming more
vocal about its opposition. The partial-birth abortion question is just
going to be really close."

Michael Heath, executive director of the Maine Christian Civic League,
reacted cautiously to the poll results.

"A lot can happen over the weekend and I've thought it was going to be close
all along," he said. "We'll have to wait to see what happens Tuesday, but
we'll be working hard to get our vote to the polls."

Jeanette Fruen, campaign manager for No on 1 in Portland, was not surprised
by the poll's results but rather than respond to developments in the
campaign, she concentrated on her organization's telephone banks.

"I just am interested in doing what we need to do to make sure that every
pro-choice voter gets out to the polls and votes no on Tuesday," she said.

Losing "No on 1" signs along the state's highways and municipal streets
isn't helping her campaign, said Fruen. She said supporters in Old Town were
telling her that their signs had been taken down by vandals in the area.

"We're just telling people to call the police and then go out and put up
some more," she said.

A decision by WLBZ 2, WCSH 6 and WMTW 8 television stations to pull a "Yes
on 1" ad initially was believed to have hurt Heath's campaign since it would
reinforce his opponent's contention that the Christian Civic League and its
allies were running a misleading campaign.

"That was a very strong statement for the television stations to make, and I
think it does have some impact among the undecided segment of those polled,
and that's the segment that's going to decide that question," said
Fitzgerald of Critical Insights.

But the decision has prompted a backlash across the state's political
spectrum with critics charging the television stations crossed the line and
may have infringed on the proponents' First Amendment rights. Political
pundits of all persuasions have skewered the stations in newspaper columns,
pollsters have issued statements claiming to be outraged by the stations'
decision, and even Gov. Angus S. King cried foul Tuesday.

"It certainly doesn't help when one side gets a bit of an advantage by
having its ad deemed acceptable to the public and the other side doesn't,"
Heath said. "But on the other hand, there has been widespread criticism of
the stations' decision."

The marijuana initiative - initially dubbed the stealth campaign for the
absence of local controversy - created a mild buzz this weekend when
proponents started airing television ads. The Maine Medical Association,
which opposes, the initiative has encouraged its members to write letters to
the editor in the state's newspapers, but has no plans for television.

Meanwhile, Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion raised a few eyebrows in the
law enforcement community by endorsing the medical marijuana question.

"I have not turned my back on the war on drugs," he said last Thursday. "I
am simply asking the people of Maine to declare a cease-fire so that we
treat the wounded in our society."

After mulling that one over for six days, Maine's top drug enforcement
officers felt compelled to issue a statement Wednesday, although they were
careful not to mention Dion by name. Maine Commissioner of Public Safety
Michael F. Kelly and Maine Drug Enforcement Agency Director Roy McKinney
expressed concerns about a "mixed message" being sent to Maine's youth.

"Possession of marijuana would still be illegal at the federal level if this
referendum passes and the state law would conflict with federal law," Kelly

Broken out by age, the Newscenter Bullet Poll showed that 50 percent of
voters 55 and over would vote for the ban. In that age group 47 percent were
against the ban and 3 percent were undecided. Only 43 percent of voters in
the 35-to-54 age bracket were in favor of the ban, while 55 percent were
against it, with 2 percent undecided. The 18-to-34 age bracket was similar
with 42 percent yes, 56 percent no, and 2 percent undecided.

Fifty-six percent of unenrolled and Democratic voters planned to oppose the
ban while 52 percent of Republicans polled said they would vote for it.

On the medical marijuana issue 71 percent of 18- to 34-year-old voters
supported its use. Sixty-five percent of those in the 35- to 54-year-old
bracket supported the medicinal marijuana question as did 51 percent of
those 55 and older.

About 67 percent of Democrats and unenrolled voters supported the marijuana
proposal while Republicans split on the question.

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MAP posted-by: Jo-D