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December 14, 2012

Annual Hoosier Survey covers hot-button topics

INDIANAPOLIS — A majority of Hoosiers are ready to support the decriminalization of marijuana and oppose putting a same-sex marriage ban into the state constitution, according to a survey released Thursday.

The 2012 Hoosier Survey done by the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University found that 53 percent of Indiana residents think possession of small amounts of marijuana should be treated like a traffic violation rather than a misdemeanor or felony crime. But 41 percent still oppose the idea.

The annual survey, which asks Hoosiers to weigh in on issues likely to be considered in the next legislative session, found that Indiana residents are evenly split on their opinion of same-sex marriage, with 45 percent for legalizing it and 45 percent against. But it also found 54 percent are against putting a ban on it into the Indiana Constitution.

Ray Scheele, co-director of the Bowen Center, said the opposition to a constitutional same-sex ban — which has had wide support from Republican legislators in the past — indicates Hoosiers are wary of altering the state’s constitution for an issue that’s still evolving in public opinion.

“We [Hoosiers] view it as a special document not to be tampered with lightly,” said Scheele of the constitution.

The survey findings echo results of the Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll in October that found 54 percent of voters would support decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, and 45 percent would support a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Hoosiers do seem ready for the Legislature to tamper with the state’s pot laws, which make marijuana possession a felony unless it’s a first-time offense and the amount is less than one ounce.

Support for decriminalizing possession of a small amount of pot — an idea supported by influential conservative Republican Sen. Brent Steele of Bedford — came from people worried about the high cost of prosecuting minor drug offenses, Scheele said.

The survey found opponents of the idea fear it would encourage the use of the marijuana in the state and lead to the use of more serious drugs. Republican Gov.-elect Mike Pence has come out against decriminalization.

Scheele and Ball State University political scientist Joe Losco released the final results of the 2012 Hoosier Survey on Thursday at the Bingham McHale Legislative Conference in Indianapolis. The survey was conducted in mid-November for the Bowen Center and the survey co-sponsor, WISH-TV, by Princeton Research Associates International.

The survey revealed that Hoosiers aren’t in lock-step agreement with the Republicans who now control the Statehouse.

For example, a 2-to-1 majority (64 percent) want the state to spend its surplus revenues on education and job-creation instead of a tax cut as proposed by Pence. And while the Legislature has moved to put more limits on abortion, the survey found that 52 percent of those surveyed want abortion kept legal in most or all cases, while 41 percent think abortion should be illegal in most or all cases.

The survey also revealed what Hoosiers do want the Legislature to focus on most: jobs (81 percent); improving schools (65 percent); making health care more affordable (61 percent); and protecting the environment (44 percent).

The survey found that reducing illegal immigration is less of a priority for Hoosiers this year. The priority dropped nearly 9 percentage points this year to 36 percent.

Maureen Hayden is the Indiana Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI, the parent company of the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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