Idahoans, there’s a new poll in town, and given the lack of routine nonpartisan polling in the state, its appearance has real potential to shape public policy and discussion.
Idaho Politics Weekly, a new online news provider, is conducting monthly polling as part of its offering. The site launched earlier this month and wasted no time plunging into some of Idaho’s hottest topics. Among its initial findings:
• Eight out of 10 Idahoans want increased funding for roads and highways and about four of 10 support paying for it with higher vehicle registration fees or gas taxes. But nearly one-third strongly oppose higher fees or taxes, and 85 percent say commercial trucks should pay more in proportion to the wear and tear they create.
• By 2-to-1, Idahoans support accepting federal money to expand Medicaid, with 61 percent favoring, 29 percent opposed and the remainder uncertain. Just more than half of Republican respondents, and 9 out of 10 Democrats, support the expansion.
The poll canvassed 520 adults, a fairly standard sample size, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points. Its sample is based on a pool of statewide registered voters and accurately mirrors most statewide demographics.
The site is run by a Salt Lake City-based communications firm and substantially funded by Utah-based Zions Bank. The bank has 28 branches in Idaho - four in the Treasure Valley - and sees its contribution as part of community outreach.
Among banks, Zions is fourth overall in Idaho market share with 6.3 percent, behind Wells Fargo (23.8 percent), U.S. Bank (17.8 percent) and KeyBank (6.9 percent). Originally founded by Brigham Young in 1873, the bank’s Idaho headquarters is in the new 18-story Eighth & Main building in Boise.
“One of the things that we feel strongly about is the importance of being engaged in the community and being engaged in policy-related matters,” said Rob Brough, the bank’s executive vice president of marketing and communications. “Not from the standpoint of pushing a particular agenda but of facilitating dialogue in the community.”
The bank, Brough added, is “not endorsing or taking a position on any of these issues of public policy. The bank itself doesn’t take a position on public policy issues outside of the banking industry.”
The site’s editorial direction comes from LaVarr Webb, a former Salt Lake City newspaper editor turned public policy consultant. He launched a similar site in Utah, also with Zions backing, in 2004. The site provides original content and also aggregates and provides links to news from other sources, including the Statesman, and sends a free weekly newsletter to subscribers.
“We are really trying to provide a service to the public policy community,” Webb said. “We’re not crusading for any particular point of view. We’re not partisans or ideologues.”
Webb, who described himself as a moderate Republican, said the site will accept essays and opinions from outside sources and is building a staff of Idaho-based reporters.
“We’re not going to be doing investigative reporting or hard-hitting kinds of things,” he said.
Zions Bank is “making substantial contributions to help make this happen,” he said, but “not dictating any editorial policies.”
“With my journalism background, I tend to see both sides of issues,” Webb said. “It’s not going to make a ton of money, but we need to at least break even in order to be able to do it.”
Neither Brough nor Webb would discuss specific costs, but Brough said the bank has made a “long-term commitment.”
“Specific to the monthly polling, we believe understanding the voice of the people plays a critical role in encouraging healthy discussions and identifying solutions to important community issues,” Brough said.
The polling is being conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, a Utah firm. Dan Jones launched it in 1980 and conducts polls for Utah’s leading political figures.
Jones said last week that residents of all 44 of Idaho’s counties were sought for the poll relative to their proportional population, with an equal number of respondents from Idaho’s two congressional districts. The polling was conducted by telephone and online. Respondents were registered voters. Other details:
▪ Party: The breakdown of respondents was 38 percent Republican, 14 percent Democrat, 35 percent independent and 13 percent other or not provided. Jones said current party enrollment in Idaho is 45 percent Republican and 16 percent Democrat.
▪ Ideology: Twenty-five percent called themselves very conservative, 32 percent somewhat conservative, 17 percent moderate, 14 percent liberal and 6 percent very liberal.
▪ Age: Two-thirds were 50 or older.
▪ Religion: 24 percent identified as LDS (18 percent active in the church); 20 percent protestant; and 9 percent Catholic.
▪ Education: 36 percent were high school graduates, 23 percent had an associate or technical degree, 21 percent were college graduates, and 16 percent had a graduate or professional degree.
The polling is sound and Jones’ firm reputable, said Gary Moncrief, emeritus professor of political science at Boise State University. The sample characteristics matched Idaho’s demographics on county population and religious affiliation. He said the skew toward older voters, often found in surveys of registered voters compared to the general population, was “a little suspect.”
Moncrief said the higher representation of more densely populated or urban areas in the survey would not skew the findings toward a more liberal result. Among its notable findings, he singled out the “pretty substantial majority” support for more education funding and the high level of support for anti-discrimination laws for gay and transgender individuals.
Boise State, he noted, used to conduct nonpartisan annual polling but dropped it because of cost.
“Someone needs to fill the gap in measuring public opinion in Idaho,” he said. “I do not believe that public opinion should always drive policy decisions, but I do think it provides an important additional source of information for the decision-makers.”