Support for ConCon fading; Voters evenly divided on whether it’s a “waste of time” or “once in a generation opportunity”

Photo by James Gormley

Huge support for potential ConCon issues: Term limits, full-time Legislature, initiative and referendum, women’s reproductive rights and protections regardless of gender identity, sex and ethnicity

 

By a narrow 44-to-39 percent margin, registered voters say they will vote “yes” on November 7 to support a constitutional convention, down from 45-to-33 percent in September.

While 44 percent of New York voters say it’s a “once in a generation opportunity to bring our state Constitution into the 21st Century,” 45 percent say it “will be an expensive waste of time,” according to a new Siena College poll.

Siena pollsters found that seven out of nine issues that could be discussed at a constitutional convention enjoy overwhelming public support despite the fact that ConCon supporters are struggling to generate enthusiasm among the public.

For example, 81 percent say that state legislators, the governor, comptroller and attorney general should all be term-limited.

Seventy-eight percent say regular citizens should have the opportunity to vote directly on proposed laws via a ballot initiative process, a system that does not currently exist in New York state, but does elsewhere.

Sixty-six percent of voters say New York state lawmakers should be considered full-time employees and be banned from holding outside jobs.

And closing the “LLC loophole” that allows almost unlimited donations to candidates is supported by 73 percent of voters.

These systemic changes would likely cause massive disruptions to the way Albany operates, something that sitting lawmakers are hesitant to endorse.

But the public could also demand constitutional changes that expand civil rights protections and explicitly guarantee abortion rights for women.

When polled by Siena, voters overwhelmingly said (82 percent) they want to “add protections from discrimination based on gender identity, ethnicity and sex.”

Sixty-nine percent of voters say they would prohibit laws that “unreasonably restrict the rights of women to control reproductive decisions.”

“While New Yorkers may be divided on whether to ConCon or not, on several issues that might be the topic of discussion at a convention there is widespread, bipartisan support,” said Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg. “Four issues — term limits for both state legislators and statewide office holders, establishing an initiative process to allow New Yorkers to vote directly on proposed laws, and adding constitutional protections based on gender identity, sex and ethnicity — are supported by more than three quarters of voters.”

Public employee unions are urging their members and the public to vote against a constitutional convention, fearing they could see changes to the state pension system if a convention is called by voters.

A multi-year process would allow the public, through elected delegates, to reform any part of the state’s 44,000-word Constitution.

“As half of New Yorkers continue to have heard or read nothing about the upcoming ConCon vote … support for a ConCon continues to wane. A plurality of Democrats and a bare majority of independents say they will vote yes, however, a majority of Republicans say they’re voting no. Support is greatest among young, lower income, black, and Latino voters,” Greenberg noted.

“Similarly, a plurality of Democrats and a bare majority of independents see a ConCon as a once in a generation opportunity to improve the lives and safeguard the rights of New Yorkers, while a majority of Republicans say nothing good will get done at a ConCon,” Greenberg said. “Not surprisingly, voters from union households are much more negative towards ConCon than those voters from non-union households.”

Greenberg says that with just a month until election day, he expects to see interest groups from all sides of the political and ideological spectrum working to defeat a ConCon, and its likelihood of passing is anything but a sure bet.

“That said, in what is likely to be a very low turnout election … it is difficult to assess just how many New Yorkers will cast their vote,” he said. “It’s even more difficult to determine if that small subset of New York voters is more likely to be pro-ConCon or anti-ConCon.”

On two possible convention topics, voters are showing clear opposition. Forty-nine percent of voters are against new policies that would open up more of the Adirondack Park for economic development and 53 percent oppose limiting the collective bargaining rights of state employees.

“Of course, regardless of whether there’s a ConCon or not, the Legislature could send any of these issues to the voters for their approval as proposed constitutional amendments,” Greenberg said.

This Siena College Poll was conducted from September 25 to October 2, 2017 by telephone calls conducted in English to 789 New York state registered voters. Respondent sampling was initiated by asking for the youngest male in the household. It has an overall margin of error of + 4.0 percentage points.

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