An increasing percentage of Idahoans believe the state is on the wrong track, according to a new Boise State University School of Public Service survey released Friday.
According to the eighth annual Idaho Public Policy Survey, 41.2% of those surveyed said the state is on the wrong track, versus 44.1% who said the state is moving in the right direction. The remaining survey respondents weren’t sure. For the first time in the survey’s history, the gap between Idahoans who think the state is headed in the right direction and those who say the state is on the wrong track were within the margin of error. That means the two responses were statistically tied.
Specifically, 63% of men said the state was headed in the right direction, versus 36% of women who agree the state is headed in the right direction.
That’s a significant change from 2019, when 60% of Idahoans said the state was headed in the right direction and there was a 30-point gap between Idahoans who said the state was headed in the right direction and those who said the state was on the wrong track.
The state of the economy was a concern, as 37.3% of the respondents to the most recent survey said they expect economic conditions in Idaho to get worse, versus 35.6% of those surveyed who said they believe economic conditions will stay about the same. Only 21% of the people surveyed in Idaho said they expect economic conditions in The Gem State to get better.
Boise State University researchers said their survey results have identified a rise in concerns over the economy.
“This continues a trend where we are seeing some growing pessimism, or concerns, about the future and direction of the state among Idahoans because we have gone from a 30-point gap between those two answers in 2019, down to a five-point gap last year to a 2.9-point gap this year,” said Matthew May, survey research director for Boise State University’s School of Public Service.
Boise State University survey identifies support for property tax reductions, repealing sales tax on food
In addition to asking Idahoans about their general satisfaction with the state, researchers also asked about specific policy issues related to the Idaho Legislature.
The survey found that 55.9% of Idahoans believe property taxes are too high. When researchers asked Idahoans for their preference if the Idaho Legislature were to use the state’s budget surplus to reduce taxes, 40.5% of those surveyed said reducing property taxes would provide the most help to Idahoans, compared with 31.1% who said reducing income taxes would be most helpful. Over the last two years, property tax reductions switched places with income tax reductions as the Idahoans top priority for tax cuts, the survey’s authors said.
In his Jan. 9 State of the State address, Gov. Brad Little called on the Idaho Legislature to spend $120 million to reduce property taxes. Meanwhile, some Republican leaders including Speaker of the House Mike Moyle, R-Star, have said that the Idaho Legislature doesn’t set or spend property taxes, local taxing districts such as cities, counties and school districts do.
Although their top priority was property taxes, a large majority of Idahoans also favor repealing the sales tax on food items like fruits, vegetables, meat, bread and dairy. The survey found 82.1% of Idahoans favor eliminating the sales tax on food items when they were asked specifically whether they favor or oppose the idea. Just 12.2% of those surveyed said they oppose eliminating the sales tax on food, which is also sometimes referred to as a grocery tax.
About half of Idahoans favor allowing parents to take education funding outside of the public school system
The survey also found that a slight plurality of Idahoans favor a proposal that would allow families to take a share of education funding outside of the public school system and put it toward tuition at a school of choice. However, the wording of the question contained a key factual error that Boise State University researchers acknowledged and said could have skewed the results.
The survey asked Idahoans “Right now, in Idaho, the state government spends about $8,000 per student to pay for K-12 public schools. Would you favor or oppose a school choice plan to allow Idaho parents to take that $8,000 out of the public school system and use it to enroll their child in a charter, private or religious school?”
The problem with the wording of the question is that charter schools are part of the public school system in Idaho and do not charge tuition, although many have enrollment lotteries.
Using that original wording, the survey found 48.6% of survey respondents favored a plan to take funding outside of the public school system to use toward tuition at a school of choice, compared to 42.8% of those who opposed the idea.
Respondents were then asked a follow-up question on if they would support school choice policies that, depending on how they are worded in Idaho law, could leave traditional public schools with lower overall budgets. Of the respondents, 43.8% said that would make them less supportive of the plan, while 34.2% said that would have no impact on their position. An additional 13.7% of respondents said they would be more supportive of school choice if that could lead to lower overall budgets for public schools.
“What this underscores is that the specifics of how the policy is written ultimately can impact whether or not a school choice proposal is supported,” May said.
How was Boise State University’s survey conducted?
The survey was conducted Nov. 10 through Nov. 17 — immediately after the general election — among 1,100 adults who live in Idaho. GS Strategy Group conducted the survey, contacting Idahoans via cell phone, landline phones, online and text messages. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1%, Boise State University researchers said.
The survey is available online at Boise State University’s website.