Kansans say state is still a great place, but with less confidence than previously: 5th Kansas Speaks survey of public opinion released

Kansas remains a great place to Iive, and Kansans are optimistic about the future, but they also revealed a significant amount of uncertainty in the fifth annual Kansas Speaks survey of public opinion in the state.

Overall, according to Fort Hays State University's Docking Institute of Public Affairs, Kansans who responded to the 2013 Kansas Speaks survey are feeling caught between different forces and unsure about what the future will hold.

First of all, Kansans believe the state is a great place to live. But that does not mean they look at events in the state with rose-colored glasses. Although 87.4 percent of respondents rate Kansas as a good, very good or excellent place to live, only 53.4 percent rate the Kansas economy that highly. Most people rate the economy as fair or good, but clearly the enthusiasm among Kansans for the state does not extend to the state of the economy.

In fact, 61 percent of respondents are concerned the Kansas economy will threaten their family's welfare in the near future. There is an apparent concern for the economy, but one of the biggest uncertainties is what the people want to do about it. Sweeping into office in 2010, Gov. Sam Brownback promised to improve the Kansas economy through a low-tax, pro-business policy agenda showcased by a gradual reduction of corporate and individual income taxes.

After two years of Brownback's governorship, respondents are divided on the effects of the plan. Survey participants are evenly divided on Brownback's economic plan, with 38 percent satisfied with his handling of the economy and 40 percent dissatisfied with his performance.

Respondents to Kansas Speaks are also evenly divided on Democratic plans for the state's economy, but more neutral. ResuIts suggest that people might not be enthusiastic about Brownback’s economic agenda but aren’t even sure what the Democratic plan is. The actual percentage of supporters, 30 percent, and opponents, 36 percent, for Democrats is close to the numbers for Brownback, so no clear mandate on a direction for the economy emerges.

Most notable are the results on state spending. Many respondents (44.5 percent) think government spending should be decreased, but other data suggest that Kansans don’t know where the cuts should come from. More Kansans think funding for education, both K-12 (66.5 percent) and higher education (45.1 percent), and social services (50.1 percent) should be increased.

In those same categories, 6 percent thought K-12 funding should be decreased, 12.7 percent thought funding for higher education should be reduced, and 6.2 percent thought funding for social services should be reduced; 27.5 percent, 42.2 percent and 43.7 percent, respectively, thought funding should remain the same.

In no specific areas did a mandate emerge for reduction in government spending. So while people who participated in Kansas Speaks generally think that government spending should decrease, they have no preference for specific and substantive cuts in the state budget.

In fact, they would like to see spending increases on the two policy areas that make up three-quarters of the state budget: education and social services.

Support for spending increases is so strong that three in five participants support school districts being allowed to sue the state Legislature to increase their funding. Respondents are also decisive on how they would pay for extra spending, strongly favoring tax increases for large corporations and wealthier Kansans, with majorities supporting higher taxes for both groups.

Kansans are unsure of the future, skeptical of all political leaders’ ideas for improving the state’s economic health, and want the government to decrease spending, while at the same time they want increased funds going to schools and social services. The one thing that is clear from the responses to this year’s Kansas Speaks is that uncertainty reigns.

Fort Hays State University's Docking Institute of Public Affairs has conducted the survey since 2009. For this year, 1,459 Kansas residents were contacted from May 23 to Sept. 18, and 944 completed the survey. Dr. Jian Sun (pronounced jan soo-un), senior research scientist at the Docking Institute, said the 64.7-percent response rate computes to a 3.2-percent margin of error.

The full survey report is available through the Kansas Speaks link on the Docking Institute homepage at www.fhsu.edu/docking.

Other interesting findings:

-- Wind is the clear favorite for where resources devoted to energy development should go, at least in the number of people who think it is extremely important: 45 percent; 27.7 percent favored oil, 14.4 percent coal, and 9.8 percent nuclear. For wind and oil, the numbers are closer when all the "good" categories are factored in together. For those two, a total of 92.2 percent think wind is somewhat (18.1 percent) to extremely important, while 90.1 percent think oil development is somewhat (27.6 percent) to extremely important.

-- A 46.7-percent plurality of Kansans strongly oppose allowing concealed weapons to be carried in schools, hospitals and government buildings. An additional 8.9 percent are somewhat opposed and 12.4 percent are neutral; strong support was expressed by 19.2 percent, and 12.8 percent somewhat support concealed weapons in those venues.

-- Six in ten (61 percent) respondents felt that Kansas school districts should be allowed to sue the state for failing to meet the constitutional mandate to provide adequate funding for elementary and secondary public education. In general, the younger, upper-educated, Hispanic and Democratic respondents were more likely to support school districts suing the state.

-- Less than half (44.2 percent) of respondents said that, "if the election was held today," they would vote to retain Sam Brownback for governor. Support for Gov. Brownback was higher among those respondents who were 18 to 24 years old, those whose highest education level was less than high school, those whose family incomes were below $35,000, those who did not vote in 2012, and males.

-- Among respondents who indicated they did not vote in the November 2012, 51.7 percent said they were registered and had a government-issued ID, while 38.6 percent were not registered but had the proof of citizenship needed for registration. The remaining 9.6 percent of respondents who did not vote said they either did not have a proof of citizenship or did not have a photo ID, making them ineligible to participate in the 2012 election.

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