Support for a proposal to require businesses in Maryland to provide paid sick leave to employees drops precipitously when coupled with questions about possible impacts to jobs and benefits, according to a poll conducted by opponents of the effort.
The poll, a copy of which was obtained by The Daily Record, was conducted by Annapolis-based Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies and paid for by groups that have opposed the effort, including the Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Dealers Association, the Maryland Retailers Association and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
The numbers appear to provide a basic map of how opponents may attempt to argue the issue in the court of public opinion as the legislature takes up the issue again this year. Opponents are expected to discuss the poll and release official results during a Tuesday morning conference call with reporters.
The poll continues to show that the issue receives strong support — 73 percent — when those surveyed were merely asked if they were in favor of such a mandate. The strongest support comes from Democrats, people 50 and older, women, and black voters.
“We wanted to test a series of concerns that are real to employers” said Patrick Gonzales, who conducted the poll. “People will say it’s a push poll — fine. This isn’t a push poll. We wanted to test a number of questions, a series of real concerns for area employers. We’re testing the reality.”
The poll of 819 registered Maryland residents who vote regularly was conducted earlier this month at the same time Gonzales conducted polls on the approval ratings for Gov. Larry Hogan, the Democratic Primary for mayor in Baltimore and approval ratings for Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.
All those surveyed were asked the base favor-oppose question first.
But then they were asked to consider the same question again, this time with five different conditions — fewer jobs, fewer available work hours, cuts in health care and retirement benefits, higher prices for goods and services, and if the mandate was paid for with a payroll tax assessed on workers. Those questions were asked in a random, rotating order to prevent question bias, according to Gonzales.
The concerns appear to track with a 2013 survey of businesses in Connecticut affected by a similar proposal. That survey was conducted by the Employment Policies Institute, a conservative think tank. That report found that businesses reported reducing benefits, working hours, numbers of jobs, scaling back available overtime and increasing costs of goods and services.
In every case support for mandatory paid sick leave dropped below 50 percent in Maryland in the Gonzales poll when negative business effects were added to the question.
“We were trying to represent where the public will shift on this issue based on the reality,” Gonzales said. “I look at the results and they kind of jump out at you.”
The biggest drop in support came when those surveyed were asked if they supported paid sick leave if it meant a reduction of retirement or health care benefits — 77 percent said they would oppose the mandate compared to 12 percent that said they would continue to support it. Support among Democratic voters dropped to about 14 percent and nearly 13 percent among black voters.
“Those groups are control its (the bill’s) future,” Gonzales said, adding that black voters are arguably the “most important constituency in this state” for the Democratic Party.
About 66 percent of those asked said they would oppose such legislation if it caused a reduction in working hours for employees or meant fewer jobs were available compared to the 17 percent and 26 percent respectively who said they would still support such legislation.
Support for the issue fell the least when the poll asked respondents if they would continue to favor such legislation if it created an increase in the cost of good or services. In that case, 42 percent said they would continue to support such legislation while about 51 percent said they would oppose such a bill.
In all cases, the fall-off of support cut across all demographics and political parties, according to the poll.
The results appear to provide a set of arguments for opponents of the effort. Proponents of the sick-leave measure, meanwhile, are likely to argue that the impact of the plan is being misrepresented or exaggerated by some of the premises of the survey.
The results also raise the possibility that passage of a statewide paid sick leave bill could create a wedge issue for Democratic elected officials in competitive districts, Gonzales said.
Legislators such as Democratic Sens. John Astle, Anne Arundel County, Jim Brochin and Kathy Klausmeier, Baltimore County, Jim Mathias, Eastern Shore, and Ron Young, Frederick, and Democratic Dels. Pam Beidle, Mark Chang and Ted Sophocleus and Ned Carey of Anne Arundel County, Eric Bromwell of Baltimore County and Mary Ann Lisanti of Harford County could all find the bill a difficult issue given their individual districts.