Tax poll

A proposal to eliminate the state’s income tax is back on the ballot this year, after losing 40 percent to 48 percent, with 12 percent of voters blanking on the question, six years ago. That vote coincided with a gubernatorial election in which Republican Mitt Romney did not endorse the measure but ran a “tough on taxes” campaign against Democrat Shannon O’Brien. Statewide, Romney ran 9 points ahead of the Libertarian Party’s bid to end the income tax, but in many affluent suburbs such as Hingham and Wellesley, the anti-tax measure ran more than 20 points behind the winning anti-tax candidate. (Get town-level data here.) If the Libertarians are to prevail this year, they need a lot more votes in Republican-leaning towns.

Yet they don’t necessarily have to win the votes of everyone supporting Republican John McCain for president. In 2002, the anti-tax measure was more popular than Romney in 51 communities, shown in darkest red on the map below, suggesting that there may be a bloc of ticket-splitters ready to vote yes on Question 1 even as they say no to the Republican Party. Relative to the GOP vote, the anti-tax vote was strongest in two categories: low-income cities, such as Chelsea, Lawrence, and New Bedford; and parts of the state that are the greatest distance from Beacon Hill, including the Berkshires and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

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The fate of Question 1 could also hinge on the distinction between people who vote no and people who don’t vote at all. The last time the issue was on the ballot, the liberal bastion of Cambridge cast 24,551 votes for Democrat O’Brien and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, but only 21,049 people voted no (to retain the income tax), with 7,801 voting yes and 3,595 blanks making up the difference. If the “no” votes run significantly behind the tally for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama statewide this November, the Libertarians may pull off an upset. A victory would probably be largely symbolic, however, since the Legislature is not likely to get rid of the state’s principal source of revenue.