What Utah voters want from their Legislature

The three issues voters most want the Legislature to address: Reducing corruption among elected officials, improving Utah’s air quality, and increasing spending on K-12 public education.

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.

Policy proposal Support
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.

Democrats 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. They are, unsurprisingly, the three issues voters most want the Legislature to address: 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.

Policy proposal Polarization
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. (This does not imply that these are the most popular three options, only that respondents of both parties take similar views.) 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.

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About Adam Brown

Adam Brown is an assistant professor of political science at Brigham Young University and a research fellow with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. You can learn more about him at his website.
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