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Idahoans expressing doubts about state's direction, annual poll finds

A graph depicting responses to the question of whether Idahoans feel the state is going in the right or wrong direction.
Boise State University School of Public Service
For the first time in the BSU poll, the percentage of Idahoans who feel the state is moving the right direction, and those who feel the state is moving in the wrong direction, are statistically tied.

Most Idahoans trust public libraries and librarians and more Idahoans feel the state is on the wrong track than they have in the past decade, according to a new report published by Boise State University’s Idaho Policy Institute and School of Public Service.

Researchers on Friday released their ninth annual Idaho Public Policy Survey, a survey that touches on public opinion and trending topics in the Idaho Legislature.

The survey was conducted in November, and it includes responses from over 1,000 adults in Idaho representing all 44 counties. In the survey, researchers asked Idahoans about their opinions related to the economy, education, housing, elections among other Idaho topics.

Some of the key findings include:

  • For the first time in the survey’s history, more Idahoans in comparison to previous surveys (43%) said they feel the state is off on the wrong track.
  • Education, jobs and the economy, and housing remain Idahoans’ top three legislative priorities.
  • Idahoans favor a primary election (75%) over a caucus (13%) and for U.S. presidential and Idaho state primaries to be held on the same day (74%)

The survey also addressed hot topic issues related to Idaho’s abortion law, school vouchers and controversy surrounding libraries.
Most Idahoans favor expanding abortion exceptions to current law, survey found

The survey found that most Idahoans want to see changes made to Idaho’s existing abortion law.

The survey asked Idahoans: “After Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court, abortion access is now determined on a state-by-state basis. Currently in Idaho, abortion is banned after six weeks of pregnancy and the only exceptions are for documented cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother. Knowing this, which policy would you prefer for Idaho?”

But the wording of the question was inconsistent with what’s in Idaho Code. Idaho’s abortion ban allows no access at any gestational age, with exceptions for rape and incest in the first trimester with a police report, and to save the pregnant patient’s life. The wording of the question said Idaho’s ban extends from six weeks of pregnancy and beyond.

Matthew May, the coauthor of the report and survey research director for the School of Public Service said the Idaho Capital Sun was the first to point that out, and he would have to examine the issue more closely.

“We should have caught that,” May said.

With the information presented in the survey, 33% of Idahoans said they favored keeping Idaho’s abortion law as is, while 58% of Idahoans favor changing the existing law.

Of the Idahoans who favored changes, 24% percent wanted to expand exceptions to include the health of the mother and non-viable pregnancies, 19% favored no restrictions to abortion access, and 14% favored allowing abortion until 22 or 24 weeks, which is often considered the time range when a fetus can survive outside of the womb, but banning it after that time frame.

Of those who thought the state was on the wrong track, 6.7% of the respondents identified abortion issues and women’s rights as the primary reason for their pessimism.

Idaho education and school vouchers: Respondents show nuanced understanding in survey

Each year the survey looks at Idahoans’ perception of the state’s K-12 education system. This year, 37% of respondents said they rank the education system as fair, a 2% increase from last year. Less than 29% of respondents ranked Idaho’s K-12 system as good, and 24% of respondents rated Idaho’s education quality as poor.

The survey also asked respondents what factors made Idaho’s K-12 public schools fair or poor. The breakdown of responses is as follows:

  • 31% cited quality of education and curriculum
  • 17% cited low test scores and ratings 
  • 17% cited lack of funding and improvements
  • 14% expressed concerns about teacher pay
  • 9% cited other reasons
  • 8% did not know or respond to the question
  • 4% cited concerns to woke culture and liberal ideas

The survey also asked respondents whether they would favor or oppose a plan to allow Idaho parents to take $8,000 out of the public school system and use it to enroll their child in a private or religious school.
Of the respondents, just under half of Idahoans said they would be in favor of the plan, while 41% of Idaho respondents said they would be opposed.

In a follow-up question, surveyors asked if the respondents would change their support for a voucher plan if it meant leaving public school districts with lower budgets. According to the survey, 42% of respondents said they would be less supportive of the plan, and only 13% said it would make them supportive. About 42% of respondents said it would not have an impact on their support for the plan.

Idahoans trust public libraries and librarians, survey shows

Another trending topic the survey addressed was public trust in Idaho libraries. The survey asked Idahoans, “How much trust do you have in public libraries and libraries to choose the books that are made available at Idaho public libraries?”

The survey arrives only two weeks into the 2024 legislative session, during which legislation concerning library materials has been a primary focus for many legislators. On Monday, more than 100 people showed up to a meeting in the House State Affairs Committee in protest and in support of House Bill 384. The bill would have required library patrons to file a relocation request for materials they deem “harmful to minors.” Library would then have to relocate the material within 30 days, and failure to abide by the rule would result in a $250 fine, according to the legislation.

Before it could be debated on the House floor Thursday, House State Affairs Committee chairman, Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, asked that the bill be returned to his committee as the bill’s sponsor works out a new compromise, Boise State Public Radio reported.

Survey results showed that 69% of Idahoans trust library staff with book selection, meanwhile 23% of Idahoans do not trust libraries and library staff. About 8% of respondents said they were not sure about the question.

“Our results show that Idahoans remain concerned about the future – be it their economic situation, the direction of the state, or specific public policies – and that trend is continuing,” May said. “What we try to do with the survey each year is allow Idahoans to state their preferences on the issues of the day, so that when Idaho’s leaders and decision-makers are crafting solutions for the state, they are able to take the public’s perspective into account.”

GS Strategy Group conducted the survey between Nov. 4 through Nov. 14 by cell phone, landline phones, online and via text messaging.

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States Newsroom reproductive rights reporter Kelcie Moseley-Morris contributed to this report.

This story was originally publishedby the Idaho Capital Sun.