Privatizing Pennsylvania alcohol sales broadly popular in poll

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Almost every kind of Pennsylvania voter -- from young to old, urban to rural, union member or not -- supports privatizing state alcohol sales, according to a new poll commissioned by the conservative Commonwealth Foundation.

The poll of 800 registered voters statewide found 61 percent favor privatization to 35 percent who oppose.

But there was more fervor on the favorable side, with 41 percent strongly approving the state getting out of the alcohol business to 20 percent who strongly support the status quo.

Majorities of all of those surveyed who use state stores approved of privatization, whereas only those who never bought wine and spirits favored keeping the government in control.

"Constituents are loudly asking legislators to serve 'last call' for government-sold alcohol," the foundation's president Matthew Brouillette quipped upon releasing the results this morning.

The survey was conducted over land and cell phones from Jan. 22-27 -- before Gov. Tom Corbett announced a plan Jan. 30 to privatize alcohol sales -- and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Gov. Tom Corbett's plan includes selling off 1,200 private licenses for selling wine and alcohol and generating an estimated $1 billion across five years for public schools.

All polling of the state shows majority support for privatization, including the latest Franklin & Marshall poll showing 53 percent in favor, which is basically unchanged from studies a decade ago.

The Commonwealth Foundation's poll, conducted by FM3 Public Opinion Research & Strategy, probes a bit deeper into who supports privatization and why.

Voters in every section of the state support privatization except Philadelphia, which is split 46 percent in favor to 50 percent opposed. Allegheny County supports it 69-28 percent and the rural "T" in the middle of the state favors it 62-33 percent.

Republicans favor it 69-26 percent, Democrats 52-43 percent and independents 71-25 percent. Men support it 62-34 percent and women 60-35 percent.

All age groups support it, from a high of 69-28 percent by those in their 30s to a split of 49-42 percent to those ages 75 and greater.

Unions and their Democratic allies in the Legislature have argued against privatization partially because it will extinguish thousands of government jobs at the state-run stores. Even union members supported privatization, the study found, 52-43 percent.

A third of all privatization supporters, 33 percent, said they wanted less government regulation, followed up by 29 percent saying they want more convenience or the ability to buy wine and liquor in supermarkets.

Pennsylvania -- which has the strictest government oversight of alcohol sales nationwide outside of Utah -- needs to privatize to keep up with other states, 17 percent of supporters said.

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Timothy McNulty: tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.


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