State Politics

BSU poll finds Treasure Valley upbeat, clear-eyed — and a touch wistful

A rainbow forms over downtown Boise after a rainstorm on April 14, 2016.
A rainbow forms over downtown Boise after a rainstorm on April 14, 2016. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

A new Boise State University poll of Treasure Valley residents shows a contented, mostly transplanted population that is modestly upbeat about the future, pretty realistic about the region’s challenges and seemingly nostalgic for its bygone ways.

Nearly 7 out of 10 people in the survey, conducted by BSU’s School of Public Service, say they relocated to the Valley. For both natives and emigres, the No. 1 reason to live here is family. Education, jobs and the economy far outweigh all other issues in importance, and the region’s best assets are a favorable crime rate, public safety and the cost of living, respondents said.

But even though prevailing wisdom might suggest that residents of Idaho’s most urban and populous region would embrace technology, health care or other white-collar industries as major drivers of the economy, respondents identified agriculture as the Treasure Valley’s most vital sector. Concern with loss of farmland and the decline of family farmers was high, and a majority said they would rather preserve farmland than see affordable housing built.

How respondents perceive the economic importance of agriculture to the region belies its actual significance. Data from the state Commerce Department ranks agricultural output near the bottom on a list of regional economic drivers.

“I don’t think any of us would have expected agriculture, but I think there is a sense that this is a cultural phenomenon here, that it is really pervasive,” said Corey Cook, dean of the School of Public Service.

Even though a lot of the talk these days is about technology and innovation, there still is a realization that agriculture has been central to the culture of the Treasure Valley. People still see that as important.

Corey Cook, BSU

The telephone poll of 1,000 Treasure Valley residents, plus 100 more from Owyhee County, was conducted between Sept. 11-15. For top-level findings, the margin of error is 3.1 percentage points.

The poll is the second major opinion survey conducted by the School of Public Service this year. A statewide poll conducted by the school in February marked BSU’s return to annual polling after a five-year absence. The university’s social science research center did annual surveys for 21 years until 2011. The survey work is offered as a resource both to the public and to the school’s faculty for research.

PERVASIVE OPTIMISM

Overall, Cook said, “Our sense is that people are really optimistic,” although they also are “certainly realistic about some of the challenges in the area.”

There’s a level optimism that truly pervades the survey, in particular around family and why people move here. That just jumps off the page.

Corey Cook, Dean, BSU School of Public Service

Key findings:

▪ Of those who moved here, 43 percent said they did so for family reasons, 29 percent for work and 9 percent for quality of life. Among natives, 36 percent said they have stayed for family reasons, 13 percent because they like or love the area, and 12 percent because they were born here.

▪ As regional and state polls consistently report, the most important issue for respondents was education, with 23 percent naming it the top issue. Next was jobs and the economy, at 20 percent. All other categories, including general government, health care, immigration, growth, and climate change, were distant also-rans.

▪ There was overwhelming consensus that the Treasure Valley is a good place to work and build a career (82 percent) and raise a family (96 percent). Asked to name the best thing about living in Idaho, almost 32 percent cited low crime and safety, and 30 percent cited the favorable cost of living.

▪ In a contradiction often seen in polling, respondents gave different answers when asked about local and national conditions. Sixty-five percent of respondents rated the local economy good or excellent, but a larger number, 70 percent, said the national economy was fair or poor. The BSU team attributed that disconnect to political and demographic differences.

▪ About half of respondents thought the region’s growth rate was about right, while 45 percent thought it was growing too fast. They were close to evenly split on the level of services residents get for their tax dollars.

▪ On several economic measures, more than half thought unemployment will remain about the same in the coming year; three-quarters thought both housing and health care costs will continue to rise.

▪ Nearly two-thirds said homelessness is at least somewhat a problem in the Treasure Valley, with more than half thinking it has leveled off. A slight plurality, but not a majority, favored a government response to homelessness over reliance on private, nonprofit or charitable resources.

A TOUCH OF NOSTALGIA?

Asked to name the Treasure Valley’s most important business sector, 24 percent said agriculture and 18 percent said small business. Just 17 percent said technology, followed by education and health care, both around 10 percent. More than 9 out of 10 said that agriculture was important both to the region’s culture and economy.

But according to figures from the state Department of Commerce, in 2014, regional economic output related to agriculture measured just 2.4 percent of total gross regional product. The total for the Boise metro area, comprising Ada, Boise, Canyon, Gem and Owyhee counties, was $27.2 billion; crop and animal production accounted for $661 million.

The connection is strong nonetheless. Just less than half of the Valley respondents were concerned about the loss of farmland, and 46 percent felt the same about the loss of family farmers. When asked to choose a priority for the region, 57 percent named preserving farmland vs. 32 percent who favored more affordable housing. The rest did not respond.

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @IDSBillD

Regional economic output

Survey respondents agriculture was an important part of the Treasure Valley’s culture and economy. Here’s where it ranks in the region:

Boise Metropolital Area Gross Regional Product, 2014

Manufacturing

$4,276,732,724

15.7%

Government

$3,163,752,567

11.6%

Other Non-Industries

$2,721,383,965

10.0%

Health Care and Social Assistance

$2,339,162,430

8.6%

Retail Trade

$1,866,098,490

6.9%

Wholesale Trade

$1,863,782,225

6.9%

Finance and Insurance

$1,795,083,145

6.6%

Construction

$1,413,230,358

5.2%

Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services

$1,282,612,108

4.7%

Administrative and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services

$1,033,760,795

3.8%

Real Estate and Rental and Leasing

$945,724,081

3.5%

Information

$743,398,021

2.7%

Crop and Animal Production

$661,453,691

2.4%

Transportation and Warehousing

$611,683,551

2.2%

Accommodation and Food Services

$591,114,138

2.2%

Management of Companies and Enterprises

$470,481,175

1.7%

Other Services (except Public Administration)

$469,536,339

1.7%

Utilities

$464,913,577

1.7%

Educational Services

$179,333,935

0.7%

Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation

$167,886,680

0.6%

Mining, Quarrying, and Oil and Gas Extraction

$142,463,508

0.5%

Total

$27,203,587,505

Source: State Commerce Department

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