Georgians want Sunday alcohol sales, poll finds

A new poll says Georgia voters overwhelmingly favor letting local citizens decide whether to allow retail sales of alcohol on Sundays.

A Schapiro Group survey found 78 percent support the idea, embodied in pending legislation. Only 18 percent were opposed.

Support was highest in metro Atlanta, other urban areas and among men, blacks, Democrats and voters in the 18-24 age group.

But at least two thirds of men and women, people in every region and age group, and in both major political parties were in favor.

In some areas - including Chatham County - bars and restaurants may serve drinks on Sunday. But Georgia is one of just three states that ban Sunday retail sales. Connecticut and Indiana are the other two.

Although past polls have detected strong support for change, proposals for local elections on Sunday sales have stalled in recent years.

One roadblock was the opposition of former Gov. Sonny Perdue. Gov. Nathan Deal says he would sign the bill.

There were predictions Thursday that the new poll results will boost prospects for the legislation, but some skepticism, too.

"Absolutely," said Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah. "It's going to pass this year."

But Atlanta political analyst and pollster Matt Towery said it faces a bumpy ride.

The legislation would let county commissions and city councils decide whether to hold elections on the issue.

House Speaker David Ralston supports the bill, and a committee in the House and one in the Senate have recommended approval.

But church groups still oppose it, and Stephens acknowledges it will be harder for it to pass in the Senate.

Moreover, the poll found voters much more closely divided on whether they'd vote for Sunday sales in their areas.

Statewide, 52 percent said they "definitely" would and an additional 9 percent said they "probably" would.

Support and opposition were about even in rural areas and the proposal trailed slightly in middle Georgia. It led by 10 percentage points in south Georgia.

Pollster Beth Schapiro, also a political consultant, works mostly for Democrats. But said the new poll was done independently and not for a client.

The bottom line, she said, is "some may not want alcohol sold on Sundays in their own communities, but they definitely want to make that decision themselves."

That gives wavering lawmakers an out, said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.

"You can go ahead and vote for it even though your community might vote it down," Bullock said.

But Towery said many senators - especially from rural areas - are squeamish about voting for the bill.

"It's not that any of them necessarily are going to be defeated over it," he said. "But a lot of them could get challengers. It has some people wringing their hands."

Chatham County's senators appear split on the proposal.

Although he's a non-drinker, Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, says he leans toward a yes vote, because he's for "democracy ... and local control."

Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, is opposed.

"I have a problem with liquor stores being open on Sunday," Jackson said. "We have to have respect for the Sabbath."

Towery also said the wording of the questions in the new poll likely skewed the results.

He noted, unlike in the current legislation, a bill considered in 2007 called for elections only on sales of beer and wine.

By referring to "alcohol" rather than "beer, wine and distilled spirits," he said, the poll blurred what many voters think is a major distinction.

Towery speculated the latter wording would have reduced support for Sunday sales elections by 10 percent to 12 percent.

But Bullock questioned whether the wording made much difference.

"I think voters are more sophisticated than that," he said. "They know 'alcohol' also covers bourbon, scotch, gin, rum, whatever."

ABOUT THE POLL


Results are from telephone surveys of 450 registered voters statewide conducted by The Schapiro Group from Jan. 27- Feb. 5. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.6 percent percent. The sample is demographically and geographically representative of registered voters in the state of Georgia.
Source: The Schapiro Group

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