BOSTON (CBS) – For more than twenty years, public charter schools have provided an option for Massachusetts families dissatisfied with the conventional public schools. Thousands are on the waiting list to get into them.

But the teacher unions and their allies see charters as a threat, and are pouring millions into a campaign to stop ballot Question Two, which would allow the state to authorize up to 12 new charter schools each year.

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(WBZ-TV graphic)

(WBZ-TV graphic)

However, the new WBZ-TV, WBZ NewsRadio, UMass Amherst Poll of 700 likely voters finds near majority support for lifting the current cap on the number of charter schools – 49-percent for “yes” on Question Two, 39-percent opposed and 12-percent undecided.

“We see support for charter schools across all demographics – men, women, all age groups, all educational groups,” says Tatishe Nteta, associate director of the UMass Amherst poll.

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“The only folks that are opposed to charter schools are Democrats and liberals. So the ‘No on Two’ folks have a lot of work to do to get to a point in which their view of the impact of charter schools resembles the view of the voters.”

That’s good news for a pro-charter campaign that has also gained extensive financial backing. But a closer look inside the poll suggests the final outcome may well be linked to voter turnout in this presidential election year.

(WBZ-TV graphic)

(WBZ-TV graphic)

A “yes” vote on Question Two draws some of its strongest support – in the mid-fifties – from voters aged 30 to 54, the prime demographic of parents with school-age children, and from independents, who are the largest bloc of registered voters.

But activists and partisans tend to be reliable voters, and the poll suggests a strong Democratic turnout could at least erode that pro-charter edge.

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Then again, presidential elections tend to pull large turnouts across the spectrum, so stay tuned.

Jon Keller