This post is a collaboration between Mike Barber and Adam Brown. Both are assistant professors of Political Science at Brigham Young University and affiliated scholars at the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.
The Utah Legislature considered 784 bills during its 2014 General Session and passed 484 of them. If the past is any guide, we can expect a similarly massive number of bills in 2015. Though it is never easy to predict which bills will arise in any given year, we polled Utah voters about 23 issues spanning the ideological spectrum. The questions were embedded in the October 2014 wave of our recurring Utah Voter Poll, fielded regularly by BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. You will find details about survey methodology and question wording in the poll’s topline report.
We’ll begin by simply presenting the 23 policy options we asked about, ranked from greatest to least support. These options appeared below the following prompt: Should the Utah Legislature prioritize working on the following issues in the next year? Respondents chose “yes” or “no” for each issue.
|Reducing corruption among elected officials||88%|
|Improving the air quality of Utah||81%|
|Increasing spending on K-12 public education||74%|
|Developing tax incentives to encourage businesses to relocate to Utah||69%|
|Regulating campaign contributions to Utah politicians||66%|
|Expand access to health insurance for the poor||66%|
|Decreasing congestion on major roadways||65%|
|Helping recent college graduates find employment in Utah||63%|
|Reforming the national Common Core State Standards initiative||62%|
|Reducing government regulations on the private sector||62%|
|Increasing spending on higher education||59%|
|Lowering taxes in Utah||59%|
|Transferring more federally held land into state control||58%|
|Preventing further development in Utah’s mountains and open spaces||56%|
|Making it harder for illegal immigrants to stay in Utah||53%|
|Decreasing income inequality||52%|
|Reducing the number of abortions in Utah||47%|
|Increasing Utah’s minimum wage||47%|
|Developing a system of state funding for charter schools||43%|
|Preventing same-sex couples from marrying in Utah||42%|
|Expanding the list of places where people can carry concealed weapons||39%|
|Making it more difficult for people to purchase firearms||35%|
|Expanding access to unemployment benefits||33%|
The most popular issue: Reducing corruption among elected officials, with support from 89% of Democrats and 87% of Republicans. This was actually the most popular proposal among Republican respondents.
Concerns about air quality come next, with 81% of respondents supporting legislative action. Again, this support transcends partisan boundaries, with support from 97% of Democrats and 74% of Republicans. Air quality seems to hit the public radar every January when the winter inversions set in; we find it remarkable that this topic received such high support during a crisp, beautiful stretch in mid-October.
Rounding out the top three is increased spending for K-12 public education, with support from 74% of respondents.
Each party’s top ten
The next table shows the top ten issues for respondents of each party. Democrats are shown on the left, Republicans on the right. Every issue in Democrats’ top ten received at least 70% support among Democrats; every issue in Republicans’ top ten received at least 69% support among Republicans.
|1||Improving the air quality of Utah||Reducing corruption among elected officials|
|2||Expand access to health insurance for the poor||Transferring more federally held land into state control|
|3||Decreasing income inequality||Reforming the national Common Core State Standards initiative|
|4||Increasing spending on K-12 public education||Reducing government regulations on the private sector|
|5||Reducing corruption among elected officials||Developing tax incentives to encourage businesses to relocate to Utah|
|6||Regulating campaign contributions to Utah politicians||Improving the air quality of Utah|
|7||Increasing Utah’s minimum wage||Lowering taxes in Utah|
|8||Increasing spending on higher education||Increasing spending on K-12 public education|
|9||Helping recent college graduates find employment in Utah||Making it harder for illegal immigrants to stay in Utah|
|10||Expanding access to unemployment benefits||Decreasing congestion on major roadways|
Three issues (shown in boldface) appear in both lists: Reducing corruption among elected officials, improving Utah’s air quality, and increasing spending on K-12 public education. Unsurprisingly, these three areas of bipartisan agreement received the most support overall, as shown in the preceding table.
The most polarizing issues
We can also consider issues by how polarizing they are across parties. The table below shows the percentage point difference (in absolute values) between support among Republicans and support among Democrats for each proposal. A low number indicates an area where Democrats and Republicans tend to take the same view. A high number indicates an area of partisan disagreement.
|Reducing corruption among elected officials||2|
|Decreasing congestion on major roadways||4|
|Helping recent college graduates find employment in Utah||10|
|Preventing further development in Utah’s mountains and open spaces||16|
|Increasing spending on higher education||21|
|Increasing spending on K-12 public education||22|
|Improving the air quality of Utah||23|
|Developing tax incentives to encourage businesses to relocate to Utah||27|
|Regulating campaign contributions to Utah politicians||28|
|Developing a system of state funding for charter schools||37|
|Lowering taxes in Utah||40|
|Reducing the number of abortions in Utah||42|
|Expand access to health insurance for the poor||44|
|Reforming the national Common Core State Standards initiative||44|
|Reducing government regulations on the private sector||45|
|Preventing same-sex couples from marrying in Utah||46|
|Expanding the list of places where people can carry concealed weapons||46|
|Making it harder for illegal immigrants to stay in Utah||50|
|Increasing Utah’s minimum wage||50|
|Making it more difficult for people to purchase firearms||51|
|Expanding access to unemployment benefits||55|
|Decreasing income inequality||56|
|Transferring more federally held land into state control||68|
Republicans and Democrats find common ground when it comes to reducing corruption, decreasing traffic congestion, and helping graduates transition to the workforce. Partisan divisions arise in matters of income inequality (including unemployment benefits and the minimum wage), gun control, and (especially) taking control of federal lands. The lands issue creates a striking 68 percentage point rift between Republicans and Democrats, with 82% of Republicans and 14% of Democrats in favor. It is hard to imagine a more divisive issue that legislators could consider.