Poll: Public Education and Air Quality Highest Priority Issues for Utahns

A new statewide survey reveals that Utahns want the Legislature to tackle public education and air quality as the two most important issues facing the state right now.

The survey, which was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates and the David Eccles School of Business from January 23 to January 25, shows the top 20 issues in rank order. Protecting states’ rights, increasing the number of jobs and improving the ethics and oversight of elected officials rounded out the top five.

“Public education always receives among the highest, if not the highest, ranking among Utahns as they consider the job that needs to be done by the Utah Legislature,” said Dan Jones, the founder and CEO of Dan Jones & Associates. “The newcomer this year is air quality. The public simply wants to see something done to improve Utah’s air.”

The data comes from the inaugural monthly survey launched by Dan Jones & Associates and the David Eccles School of Business. The Utah Business Sentiment Survey will provide a monthly indicator of business conditions, policy preferences and current issues facing the state of Utah. This month’s survey focused on the 2014 General Legislative Session.

A random group of respondents was asked: “What are the top three legislative priorities for the Utah Legislature to tackle?” Responses, which included 1,622 respondents, were then ranked on a weighted scale. Participants in the survey originate from a database of Utahns by mail, landline telephone, cell phone and e-mail. Here are the results:

 
Priorities for the 2014 Legislative Session
Priority           Weighted Scale
Improving the quality of education in kindergarten through 12th grade           1.0
Decreasing pollution           .74
Protecting states’ rights           .51
Increasing the number of quality jobs           .37
Improving the ethics and oversight of elected state and local officials           .31
Creating a business-friendly economy           .30
Expanding the availability of health care coverage           .25
Lowering the costs of health care           .24
Increasing the state’s amount of water supply           .24
Protecting gun rights           .22
Decreasing taxes           .22
Preventing illegal immigration           .20
Providing non-discrimination laws for gays and lesbians           .20
Decreasing state government spending           .18
Lowering the cost of energy, such as utilities and gasoline prices           .18
Investing in transportation infrastructure           .16
Improving the quality of education at Utah’s colleges and universities           .13

Allowing mining and grazing on federal lands in Utah

          .11
Reducing crime           .06
Expanding consumer protections           .02
             

Other interesting findings include the following:

  • 23 percent of respondents indicated that improving the quality of public education in kindergarten through 12th grade should be the Legislature’s first priority. This finding is fairly consistent between Democrats (28 percent as first priority), Republicans (22 percent as first priority), and Independent voters (23 percent as first priority).
  • 15 percent of respondents selected decreasing pollution as their top priority. This finding was driven by Democrats (29 percent as first priority) and Independent voters (17 percent as first priority). Republican voters didn’t feel as strongly about this issue (7 percent as first priority).
  • 12 percent of respondents indicated that protecting states’ rights should be the top priority. This finding was driven by Republicans (20 percent as first priority) and Independent voters (9 percent as first priority). Democrats (0 percent as first priority) didn’t feel that this is an issue that the Legislature should tackle.

“The Utah clean air rally, Clean Air Caucus and other air quality initiatives appear to be right in sync with public opinion,” said Natalie Gochnour, an Associate Dean at the David Eccles School of Business, which partnered on this survey. “Cleaning up Utah’s air ranked higher than many issues that usually garner lots of attention like increasing the number of jobs and creating a business-friendly environment.”

It remains to be seen whether these strong sentiments about cleaning up Utah’s air are a consequence of the recent wintertime inversion or if it’s an issue that’s reached a tipping point and will stay until noticeable improvements are made.

“Protecting states’ rights is another area of increasing concern for Utahns,” said Jones. “With federal health reform, same sex marriage, Medicaid expansion, and the federal government’s control over two-thirds of the land in Utah, this is an issue that garners a lot of emotion. Controlling our destiny as a state weighs heavy on peoples’ minds.”

Improving the quality of education at Utah’s colleges and universities ranked 16th among the 20 priorities on the weighted scale. Randy Shumway, President and CEO of the Cicero Group, commented, “It is a bit disheartening to see that only a few people prioritized improving the quality of education at Utah’s colleges and universities. For sustained social and economic growth in Utah, we must substantively improve the relevance and depth of what our populace knows and what they are capable of doing. Higher education and its accompanying lifelong retooling are our best investments for achieving our desired level of continuing prosperity. This data suggest we need to either improve the value of higher education or better communicate higher education’s positive impact, or both.”