A new statewide poll shows that Idahoans are deeply concerned about education, jobs and the state economy, but satisfied with their taxes and the services they get for them.
Moreover, in a break from similar polls around the nation, the state poll showed Idahoans are decidedly positive about the future and the state’s direction, a finding that cuts across demographic, political and regional distinctions.
The new survey signals the resumption of public policy polling by Boise State University, this time under the auspices of BSU’s new School of Public Service. The university’s social science research center did annual surveys for 21 years until 2011.
Public Service Dean Corey Cook and others presented the complete survey in the state Capitol Monday. The poll and BSU’s press release are here. Eventually, all 600-plus pages of cross-tabulated data will also be posted online.
Cook said Friday the school’s survey work would be useful both to the public and to the school’s faculty in research.
“To me this was an opportunity to connect those two pieces,” he said.
For the survey, 1,000 adults were canvassed statewide from Jan 11-15, about 40 percent of them reached by cell phone. The sample included 39 percent who self-identified as Republican, 37 percent as independent, and 17 percent as Democrat. There is a 3 percentage point margin of error for top-line results. Highlights:
▪ 57 percent said Idaho is going in the right direction; 35 percent said it’s on the wrong track.
▪ 28 percent cited education/school funding as the most important issue, followed by the economy at 10 percent, and jobs/unemployment at 7 percent. Health care and immigration/refugees rounded out the top five issues. Significantly, neither transportation nor the environment were mentioned when respondents were asked in an open-ended question to identify the top issues.
▪ 67 percent said taxes were “about right,” 21 percent said they were too high, and 10 percent said too low. The “about right” opinion was consistent across party affiliations.
▪ 45 percent said state spending was appropriate, 35 percent thought it should be increased, and 9 percent thought it should be reduced.
Within the top line findings were some interesting smaller takeaways:
▪ Younger respondents, ages 18-44, were more likely to favor increased funding to improve education, while respondents who were 55 or older favored “major reforms.”
▪ Given the choice of more funding for teacher salaries, per pupil spending or technology improvements, northern Idahoans were more evenly divided than other regions on where to put education dollars. Teacher salaries were the clear preference everywhere else in the state.
▪ Ada County residents, by a 3-to-1 margin, said the economy of the future should focus on technology, innovation and entrepreneurialism over traditional industries such as agriculture, timber and mining. In neighboring Canyon County, respondents were more evenly divided, 48-44, in favor of technology.
▪ Younger respondents said immigration helps more than hurts. Those 55 or older said the opposite.
▪ Those 65 or older were the group most concerned about environmental issues. A majority of all respondents - 69 percent - agreed that climate change is happening, and a plurality, 45 percent, said it was the result of both human activity and natural changes.
▪ Nearly 72 percent supported the hunting of wolves, with men substantially more in favor than women.
The common thread running through the findings is a pervasive optimism.
“We’re seeing a lot of national surveys, and most of them have analysis that (people think) things are going in the wrong direction,” Cook said. “And what we see in this survey in Idaho is that people are generally quite positive in terms of the direction the state’s going.”
The findings echo another recent poll commissioned by Idaho 2020, a new business group. The BSU survey sample is twice as large as the Idaho 2020 survey, which produces a smaller margin of error. It also sampled opinion among all adults, not just likely voters.
The new findings also recall comments and observations that surfaced in meetings last summer by an ad hoc panel of state lawmakers reviewing state tax policy. At one of those meetings, then-Commerce Director Jeffery Sayer urged panelists to forgo tax cuts and focus instead on investing in job development and education to drive economic growth.
Cook said the school plans two large-scale surveys each year — a statewide poll timed to coincide with the January start of the Legislature and a second later in the year focused on Boise and the Treasure Valley — in addition to smaller surveys through the year.
“Increasingly, metropolitan areas are important economically and socially, so I think it could be helpful for Boise State to start looking at this region in particular,” he said.
Do you think things in Idaho are generally headed in the right direction, or do you feel that things are off on the wrong track?
BSU School of Public Service survey, conducted Jan. 11-15
Sample: 1,000 Idaho adults
Hear more on the poll
Corey Cook and two political science professors will present the School of Public Service’s survey results to the public at 11 a.m. Monday in Room WW50 in the Capitol.