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Election 2004

Poll: Voters favor gambling

A phone poll shows majority support for slot machines in South Florida and notifying parents in minors' abortions.

Published October 25, 2004

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Voters are leaning toward allowing slot machines in South Florida after 26 years of resoundingly rejecting state-sanctioned casinos, a new poll shows.

A St. Petersburg Times -Miami Herald poll also shows a clear majority of likely voters - 64 percent - is ready to require that parents be notified if their teenage daughters seek an abortion.

But with eight days before the Nov. 2 election, the poll shows the fate of two other controversial ballot measures rests with undecided voters. Gov. Jeb Bush and Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher haven't yet persuaded voters to scrap plans for the statewide bullet train required by an amendment approved just four years ago, the poll found.

A slight majority of likely voters favors a doctor-backed measure to limit the fees of attorneys who win medical malpractice cases, though the amendment has the most undecideds.

The poll was conducted Oct. 19-21 by Schroth & Associates, whose political clients are Democrats, and the Republican firm The Polling Company. The statewide phone survey of 800 people who identified themselves as likely voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

It would mark a dramatic shift if Florida voters approve Amendment 4, which would allow slot machines at existing dog and horse tracks and jai alai frontons in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, if voters there agree in subsequent elections. It does not require that gambling revenue be taxed, but if the Legislature does tax it, the money would go to education.

The poll shows 49 percent of likely voters approve of the measure; 45 percent disapprove and 6 percent are undecided.

The poll also shows that the measure enjoys far more support in South Florida than it does in other parts of the state, which has been the historical trend. In South Florida, 58 percent of likely voters approve, compared to 45 percent in the Tampa Bay area. The seven South Florida parimutuels that sponsored the citizen initiative "finally did it smart this time and just said let's give those people down there the right to do it at parimutuel wagering sites," said pollster Rob Schroth.

Florida voters have rejected state-sanctioned casino gambling three times since 1978. Just a decade ago, a statewide casino measure failed 38 percent to 62 percent. And it will only succeed this time if South Florida turnout is particularly strong, Schroth and fellow pollster Kellyanne Conway agreed. But the poll does suggest voters' views of gambling are softening as American Indian casinos and offshore gambling become more prolific.

"Something that was almost vilified in many, many places has almost been mainstreamed," Conway said. "Gaming now exists in 30 states. The more commonplace it becomes, the more digestable it becomes to the electorate."

Ken Ongemach, 66, a retired electrical engineer and independent voter from North Tampa, said he plans to vote for the measure. "I hate to say it, but it's one of the few things that tend to bring some money in. ... To try to limit (gambling) is splitting hairs."

Voters overwhelmingly support Amendment 1, placed on the ballot by the Legislature, that would amend the Constitution to enable the Legislature to require parents to be notified if their minor child seeks an abortion.

Support for the measure, at 64 percent, crosses all demographic lines, with blacks showing the strongest support at 77 percent. About 28 percent of all voters oppose the measure, with 8 percent undecided. The question is not seen by voters as a referendum on abortion but on parent-child relationships, Conway said.

The highest disapproval rating is among Democrats at 37 percent.

"My husband and I agreed if we had a daughter, we'd want to know," said Margaret Sowka, a 75-year-old Democrat from Sarasota, who will vote no. "But if she's old enough to get herself into a problem, she's old enough to get herself out. And there's always girls that don't have parents who would understand."

The fate of two other ballot measures are far from clear, despite the high profile intervention of Gov. Bush. Bush, along with Gallagher, has pushed Amendment 6, which would reverse a 4-year-old decision by voters to require the building of a high-speed train.

The poll showed 43 percent of likely voters would repeal the bullet train; 46 percent support keeping it. But 11 percent are undecided. The challenge for Amendment 6 supporters: Reaching those undecided voters through all the noise of presidential and U.S. Senate campaigns. They also must persuade voters to reverse themselves. "We won, and it should be," said Sandra Dunakin, an office worker from Largo. "The people already spoke once."

The fate of another Bush-backed ballot measure also is unclear. Amendment 3 would limit lawyers' fees in medical malpractice lawsuits to 30 percent of the first $250,000 of an award and 10 percent of damages over that.

The poll showed 53 percent of voters support the amendment and 31 percent are opposed. But 16 percent remain undecided. And pollsters Schroth and Conway predicted opponents of Amendment 3, the trial bar, might easily sway those numbers with a barrage of campaign ads in the next week.

Campaign finance reports filed Oct. 15 show Floridians for Patient Protection, the lawyer-backed group, had raised $20-million, while Amendment 3 supporters Citizens for a Fair Share, a doctor-backed group, had raised $7.2-million. There's a precedent for a ballot measure upset, Schroth said. In 1996, the sugar lobby, dead set against a citizen initiative that would tax sugar a penny-a-pound to pay for environmental cleanup, killed the measure with a last-minute onslaught of advertising.

Four other proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot were not included in the poll: Amendment 2 would move up the qualifying deadline about six months for citizen initiatives for the ballot. Amendment 5 would increase the Florida minimum wage $1 to $6.15 and require a cost-of-living adjustment every year. Amendment 7 would give patients the right to know about doctors' and hospitals' medical mistakes. Amendment 8 would revoke the licenses of doctors who have three or more legal judgments or official discipline actions against them.

-- Times staff writers Steve Bousquet and Adam C. Smith contributed to this report. Joni James can be reached at 850 224-7263 or

[Last modified October 25, 2004, 11:03:49]

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