Mileah Kromer: Peter Franchot’s Endless Summer and How Survey Questions Come to Be

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By: Mileah Kromer 

The Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center was founded in the early 1950’s under a grant from the Maurice and Laura Falk Foundation. Upon her death in 1985, Judge Hughes gifted Goucher College with an endowment to help facilitate student learning in government and politics through the center that carries her name.

At Goucher College, we know Judge Hughes as an alumna (class of 1917), but others would know her from the iconic picture of Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One after the Kennedy assassination (she is the one holding the Bible). What all of this means for the Hughes Center of today — specifically the Goucher Poll — is  that we have enough funding to produce two, fully independent, statewide polls of Maryland residents each year. There are a lot of fantastic things about directing a survey center on a college campus — one of the best is the opportunity to work with students to develop questions that are of potential interest to residents and policymakers in Maryland.

Flash back to this past June when I watched an episode of Center Maryland’s Inside Out featuring Comptroller Franchot — and laughed when co-host Damian O’Doherty named the series of summer segments “Endless Summer with Peter Franchot.” During the clip, Mr. Franchot alluded that moving the official start date of Maryland schools until after Labor Day Weekend would be popular among Marylanders. When I hear a policymaker suggest that the majority of residents support any issue, I immediately wonder if they have done internal polling and if they are correct in their assertion. This is the great burden of being a pollster — the hardwired need to test every claim on a random sample of the population of interest.

Without Mr. Franchot’s blessing, encouragement, or input, I added the question to our fall poll—the joys of independent polling. It turns out, that Mr. Franchot’s perceptions of Marylanders opinions were correct. Seventy-one percent of Maryland residents support moving the start date of Maryland public schools until after Labor Day weekend — and of that 71 percent, 41 percent “strongly support” the move. Less than 20 percent oppose moving the start date. Across gender, party, race, and whether there is a child living in the respondents’ home  the results are the same — Marylanders support an after-Labor Day start date for public schools. The table below contains cross-tabulations of the question by demographics.

 

After Labor Day Start Date by Demographics

 

Oppose

Support

DK

Gender

 

 

 

Male

21

65

14

Female

13

77

9

Party

 

 

 

Republican

16

77

8

Democrat

19

68

13

Independent

11

75

14

Race

 

 

 

White

16

71

13

Black

16

74

9

Other

27

65

9

Child at Home

 

 

 

Yes

17

75

8

No

17

69

13

All

17

71

11

 Note: Don’t Know/Refused responses are not included in table.

Of course, it remains to be seen if this proposal will turn into a sponsored piece of legislation in the upcoming Maryland General Assembly session. From there, the nitty-gritty complexities of the proposal will be hotly debated. Furthermore, having widespread public support does not validate the proposal in terms of the suggested benefits — the only thing that the survey results tell us is that Marylanders are currently supportive of the general idea to move the start date. Perceptions of policy are measured by pollsters, but the details of policy are debated by policy wonks. There is opposition from groups who want public school calendars to be left up to local control. If this proposal gains enough momentum to turn into legislation, these groups will certainly seek to sway public opinion in their favor.

Further, even if the proposal continues to have public opinion on its side, it will still face a tough battle. For example, last session Delegate John A. Olszewski, Jr. (D-Baltimore County) sponsored the Maryland Earned Sick and Safe Leave Act which would have allowed Maryland workers to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to seven full days of paid sick leave per year.  In March 2014, the Goucher Pollfound that a large majority of Marylanders supported requiring Maryland businesses to provide paid sick leave for their employees. Even with public support and numerous co-sponsors, Olszewski’s bill never made it to floor vote.

Another example is HB 1358 sponsored by Delegate Glen Glass (R-Harford, Cecil), which would have given Marylanders a one-time, $100 tax break if they adopted a pet from a shelter or rescue organization. In case you are wondering how that issue made it on our poll, I asked students in my class to research different issues that the Maryland General Assembly could potentially consider during session; several students were interested in the “inherently dangerous” pit bull court ruling and subsequent legislation. When asked to gather additional information on the topic, they came across Glass’s bill and we decided to include it on the next poll. And, honestly — in a session dominated by minimum wage and marijuana — a little variety in subject matter was welcome. As an added bonus, it was great to have students so engaged in Maryland politics and policy. The Goucher Poll found that a majority of Marylanders supported the tax break — but it eventually died in committee.    

Finally, it’s impressive when any proposal can muster support from a large cross-section of the citizenry. If Comptroller Franchot’s endless summer turns into a bill, we look forward to checking back in on resident option on our spring Goucher Poll.

Mileah Kromer, Ph.D., is Director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center and Assistant Professor of Political Science at Goucher College.

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