What do Kansans really think? FHSU's Docking Institute of Public Affairs gives public a voice on vital issues

When asked to have their say in a scientific survey conducted recently by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University, Kansans spoke well of their home state and expressed confidence in the state economy.

Asked about Kansas as a place to live, 64.2 percent of respondents rated it as either excellent or very good, while only 1.5 percent rated it as less than fair. As for the state’s economy, 42 percent of respondents rated it good and 32 percent rated it fair. Only 16 percent thought the state economy was in poor or very poor condition. However, even fewer – 11 percent -- rated the Kansas economy as very good or excellent.

The survey, Kansas Speaks, has a high level of validity. Docking Institute researchers surveyed 2,082 Kansans between the months of May and August, producing results that are accurate within plus or minus 2.9 percent.

Kansans also weighed in on the topic of health care, which is perhaps the most hotly debated current event across the nation, with 50 percent of the respondents indicating a strong desire for changes in the Kansas healthcare system and an additional 33 percent saying minor changes were required. Women, members of ethnic minorities and lower- income respondents were more likely to report a desire for changes in the Kansas healthcare system. A majority, 56 percent, said they thought it was the responsibility of government to make sure all Americans had healthcare coverage, but 18 percent strongly disagreed.

"We want to give Kansans a voice," said Dr. Gary Brinker, director of the Docking Institute. "National polls regularly take the pulse of Americans on vital issues, but they rarely focus on issues of particular interest to Kansans, so the opinions of Kansans on many issues have remained mostly a matter of speculation. Until now, that is. The release of our first 'Kansas Speaks' survey will establish a baseline, and we will conduct a new scientific survey each year to see how the opinions of Kansans are evolving."

Some other interesting results:
· Well over one-fourth of respondents said they were very concerned about the degree to which economic conditions in Kansas threatened the welfare of their family, and a third said they were moderately concerned.
· Almost half, 47 percent, said they thought state spending should be decreased, 35 percent thought the current level of state spending was appropriate, and 18 percent favored an increase in state spending.
· Asked about Kansas roads and highways, 65 percent rated them good or excellent with 93 percent saying they were at least fair.
· When asked about state support for developing various sources of energy, the strongest levels of support were for wind energy, followed by solar, gas, oil and biofuels such as ethanol. Nuclear energy and coal tended to be the lowest priority.
· Respondents were divided on the question of whether the economic benefits of oil and coal production outweigh environmental concerns, with 54 percent saying the benefits of oil outweighed the concerns and 52 percent saying the benefits of coal outweighed the concerns.
· About half of respondents were satisfied with the current level of gun control and legalized gambling. Of those dissatisfied, most wanted less legalized gambling and more gun control.
· Two-thirds of respondents said they favored more resources devoted to addressing illegal immigration.
· A majority of respondents, 53 percent, said they favored teaching both evolution and creationism in the public schools, while 18 percent said that neither theory should be taught. The remaining respondents were evenly divided between wanting one or the other of the theories taught exclusively.
· Respondents were highly divided on opinions of the death penalty in Kansas, with the most common response, 40 percent, favoring limited use, 21 percent in favor of abolishing the death penalty and 23 percent in favor of executing all convicted murderers.
· A majority of respondents, 52 percent, said funding for K-12 public education should be increased and 93 percent said it should at least be maintained at its current level.
· Support for higher education was not as strong, with 43 percent favoring increased funding and 91 percent saying it should at least be maintained at its current level.

In addition to the general trends, the survey also examined issues by demographics. For example:
· Respondents residing in western Kansas tended to rate the state economy most highly, while those residing in southeast Kansas tended to rate it the lowest. Respondents who voted in the 2008 election, Anglo-Americans, those in upper income categories and those residing in western Kansas tended to rate the state more highly as a place to live.
· Preference for teaching both evolution and creationism was highest among respondents with some college, while those with graduate degrees were the most likely to prefer teaching evolution only.
· Opposition to the death penalty was stronger among women, those with higher education levels, ethnic minorities and those who voted in the 2008 election.
· Support for increasing funding to K-12 was higher among women respondents and respondents between the ages of 26 and 45.
· Respondents tending to favor more gun control were non-voters, Hispanics, lower income respondents and women.
· Support for more legalized gambling was stronger among upper income respondents and ethnic minorities.
· Increased support to address illegal immigration was more popular among non-Hispanic respondents and those with lower levels of education.

The entire survey report, including an executive summary and all the statistical results, is available on the Web site of the Docking Institute -- http://www.fhsu.edu/docking/ -- where a link is featured prominently on the home page.

About the Docking Institute
The Docking Institute of Public Affairs was created in 1980 at Fort Hays State University. Since its inception, the Docking Institute has been a leader in facilitating public policy development for western Kansas and rural Kansas. Today, programs and services targeted toward regional development and growth carry on the tradition of public service started by Kansas Govs. George Docking and Robert B. Docking and Lt. Gov. Tom Docking. The primary mission of the Docking Institute is to facilitate effective public policy decision-making among governmental and non-profit entities. To that end, the Docking Institute's main services include Survey and Focus Group Research, Economic Impact Analysis, Public Policy Analysis and Strategic Planning.

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