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Among Concerns of Bay Area Voters, Pollution Ranks Near the Top

By David A. Fahrenthold
Sunday, October 17, 2004; Page C04

Pop quiz: Name two of the three most serious problems in the Chesapeake Bay watershed area, according to a poll of voters in July and August.

Taxes? Wrong.

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Education? Nope.

The economy? Didn't make the cut.

Instead, try "pollution of rivers, lakes and streams" and "pollution of the Chesapeake Bay." In the poll, which surveyed 1,215 registered voters, more concern was expressed about those two problems than about any of the above.

The only problem over which voters expressed more concern was lack of affordable health insurance.

Given the results, it might not be surprising that this poll was commissioned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

But officials there, and at the bipartisan pair of polling firms that did the survey, say they didn't have a thumb on the scale.

Instead, officials at the bay foundation say the results should be a wake-up call to politicians, showing how truly important the bay is to local voters.

"The public is absolutely committed to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and stopping the pollution," said William C. Baker, the foundation's president.

The poll was conducted by a pair of surveying firms, one Republican and one Democratic. They talked to voters in Maryland, Virginia and central Pennsylvania.

Poll-takers did not mention that the foundation was sponsoring the poll at the beginning of their call, says Lori Weigel, a partner at the Republican firm, Alexandria-based Public Opinion Strategies. Instead, they were asked about a range of domestic issues that included the bay.

The results: 61 percent said they felt that pollution of the bay was an "extremely serious" or "very serious" problem. The same percentage said it felt that way about pollution of lakes, rivers and streams as well.

By comparison, 53 percent said they felt that the economy and unemployment were extremely or very serious problems. Fifty percent said they felt the same about public education.

Pollsters say they were surprised by the results, which showed that Chesapeake watershed area voters were much more concerned about pollution than the country as a whole.

A national survey in April showed 48 percent of people were as concerned about pollution in their local lakes, rivers and streams, the firms said.

"It really is highly unusual," Weigel said.

Pollsters also asked voters what they thought about the condition of the bay, using grades from A to F. Most gave it a C or below, the poll said.

So what should local politicians take from this poll? Bay foundation Vice President Roy Hoagland says voters expect more enforcement of pollution rules and more aggressive work to improve water quality.

"What the poll shows is that the bay is recognized as a national treasure," he said. Indeed: 88 percent of respondents said exactly that.


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