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Eighth annual survey finds fewer Idahoans think the state is on the right track; education and economy top concerns

Graph showing the percentage of respondents who say Idaho is going in the right direction, or the wrong direction.
Boise State University School of Public Service
Percentage of respondents who say Idaho is going in the right direction, or the wrong direction.

Pessimism about Idaho’s direction appears to be growing, especially among women, according to an annual survey conducted by Boise State University’s School of Public Service.

Forty-four percent of respondents said they felt Idaho was moving in the right direction, a sharp drop from 2019, when 60 percent of respondents felt that way. Forty-one percent felt Idaho is moving in the wrong direction. The two figures are within the margin of error and therefore statistically tied – a first for the poll, according to co-author Matthew May.

May, survey research director for the School of Public Service, says the results show Idahoans are increasingly concerned about the future. He said the concerns could stem from economic expectations, or concern over the state’s overall direction.

“Recognizing this rising concern and how Idahoans’ opinions on some issues have changed over time is useful as Idaho’s leaders and decision-makers evaluate policy options,” May said in a statement when the poll results were released.

The survey also revealed a stark difference between how men and women perceive Idaho’s direction. Sixty-three percent of men said the state is going the right way; only 36 percent of women said so.

Uncertainty about the state’s economy was another key takeaway from the poll. Despite a robust budget surplus, additional state investments in education, and rosy predictions for 2023 from Idaho’s Division of Financial Management, a majority of those surveyed felt ambivalent-to-worried about what lies ahead.

Almost three-quarters of respondents said they expected Idaho’s economy to stay the same or contract over the next two years. The survey’s authors noted that those figures represent a “sharp reversal” from the last time that question was asked, in 2019.

Economic concerns extended to personal finances: 43 percent of respondents said they worry about paying their bills “frequently” or “always.”

Asked what should be done with Idaho’s billion-dollar budget surplus, there was no majority answer. 35 percent of respondents said the surplus should be used to give people tax breaks. 27 percent thought it should be spent on K-12 education. 24 percent said the money should be plied into affordable housing.

Boise State also asked Idahoans about their priorities for state government. Education was listed as the top concern, followed by jobs and the economy. Education has been the number-one matter identified in the survey in each of its eight years of existence. There was some nuance along party lines. Democrats and Independents ranked education number one; among Republicans it was second, behind the economy.

For the first time in the poll’s history, housing was listed as respondents’ third-highest concern. Again, there were some differences along party lines. Independents ranked housing third, while Democrats and Republicans ranked it fourth.

About one-fifth of respondents said they rent their current home. Among them, 65 percent said their rent went up in 2022. One thing homeowners and renters agreed on was that, if they lost their housing now, it would be unlikely they’d be able to find comparable housing for the same cost as their previous dwelling.

Graph showing how people think of Idaho's recent population growth.
Boise State University School of Public Service

Two-thirds of respondents said Idaho is growing too fast. That sentiment was highest in the Caldwell-Nampa region, where 84 percent of people thought the state was getting too crowded, too quickly. In the northern third of Idaho, where growing pains have been acutely felt and hotly debated, 61 percent of people agreed the state was growing too fast.

The 2022 Idaho Public Policy Survey was conducted November 10-17, and sampled 1,000 adults who live in Idaho. The survey group was representative of the state’s population in terms of geography and demographics, according to Boise State. Respondents were drawn from 43 of the state’s 44 counties.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.