What Are Utahns’ Top Issue Priorities?

Utahns’ issue priorities fall into three distinct groups with Education and Jobs being most important and Gun Rights and Public Lands being least important.

Note: This post is written by the POLS 6010 Graduate Research Methods class at Utah State University.  The post expresses the findings of the class and does not represent the official position of Utah State University.

Last week we posted trial-heat poll results from a poll conducted by our USU class.  In addition to the vote choice questions, respondents were asked to rate their priorities on 7 key state issues: Education, Jobs, State’s Rights, Energy, Immigration, Public Lands, and Gun Control.  Respondents were asked to rate how important these issues are to them on a scale from 1-10 with 10 representing very high importance and 1 representing very little importance.  Utahns’ issue priorities fall into three distinct groups with Education and Jobs being most important and Gun Rights and Public Lands being least important. We will report the estimated average importance and 95% confidence intervals (95% C.I.) to reflect uncertainty in our estimates due to sampling error.  The results are easily depicted graphically, and a textual description follows.

Education and Jobs

Education was the most important issue on the list with a mean score of 8.49 (95% CI: 8.23-8.75). Education is commonly a top priority among voters in all constituencies and the result came as no surprise.  Jobs trailed closely behind education with a mean score of 8.33 (95% CI: 8.08-8.59). The confidence intervals for education and jobs overlap, meaning we can’t distinguish between the importance of these two issues.  However, the confidence intervals for education and jobs do not overlap with the intervals for any of the other issues, making them the clearly most important issues.

State’s Rights, Energy, and Immigration

Poll respondents placed the importance of immigration, states rights, and energy in the middle. Immigration had a mean of 7.58 (95% CI: 7.28-7.88), states rights 7.57 (95% CI: 7.20-7.94), and energy had a mean of 7.46 (95% CI: 7.13-7.78). The confidence intervals for these three issues overlap, making them indistinguishable from each other in terms of importance to respondents.  Still, because these issues’ intervals do not overlap with the other issues, we can say they are more important than gun rights and public lands but less important than jobs or education.

Gun Rights and Public Lands

Gun rights and public lands were the least important issues to poll respondents. Gun rights had a mean issue importance of 6.65 (95% CI: 6.23-7.07) and public lands 6.73 (95% CI: 6.37-7.09). Once again the two had overlapping confidence intervals, making it impossible to determine which of the two is truly higher or lower. We can say with confidence, though that these two are the least important issues to poll respondents.

Comparison to the Utah Foundation Study

(Updated November 2nd to more accurately describe the Utah Foundation’s poll.)

Morgan Lyon Cotti of the Utah Foundation discussed the Utah Priorities Survey (conducted just before the 2012 caucuses) here. There are some slight differences in methodology–we asked respondents to rate the importance of a given set of 7 issues. The 2012 Utah Priorities Survey began by asking a sample of 400 people two open-ended questions: 1) What would you say is the greatest issue facing Utah? And 2) What is the next greatest issue? Those open-ended answers were then analyzed and grouped into 19 major topic areas, from which a larger survey was created and administered to 804 respondents statewide. Their surveys were conducted by phone during February 2012 and had a margin of error of +/- 3.5%.

Regardless of the method used, there are clear similarities between the results of the two surveys. Both identified jobs and education as top priorities of voters. Gun rights and control of public lands were lowest in importance in the USU poll and didn’t even make the top 10 list when considering the two most important issues to voters in the Utah Priorities Survey. Energy and Immigration placed in the top 10 but not the top 2 of the Utah Priorities Survey and in the mid-range of importance in the USU study. One possible explanation for the appearance of states rights in the mid-range of importance in the USU study but not the top 10 list from the Utah Priorities Survey could be that states rights is not a “top 2″ issue for many people but still has some level of importance (though not top-level importance) when people are asked to rate it.


Results are based on telephone interviews conducted by students at Utah State University as part of a class assignment Oct. 8-13, 2012. The sample size is 221.  This sample size is larger than the previously reported survey because individuals who are not “likely voters” have not been screened out of these responses.   The survey was conducted from a random sample of individuals drawn from the state’s voter file. The sample is weighted by the probability of voting, party registration and age so the sample of respondents will reflect the population of active registered voters. The margins of error depicted in the figure are 95% confidence intervals that express the amount of sampling error.   The reported margins of error include the sampling design effects and incorporate the weights to adjust for coverage and non-response, but as with all polls, does not entirely account for other possible sources of error including measurement error, coverage error and nonresponse.

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About Damon Cann

Damon Cann is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Utah State University.
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