By: Marin Christensen
Voters have a lot to consider this year as they fill out their ballots. Along with measures such as Medicaid expansion and funding education, other issues like housing affordability and Utah’s economic future loom large as they elect their representatives.
The Gardner Policy Institute and the Hinckley Institute of Politics of the University of Utah have collaborated to produce INFORMED DECISIONS™ 2018, a biennial election brief offering expert analysis on important issues Utahns face during election season.
In addition to offering demographic, economic, and issue analysis, the Gardner Policy Institute conducted a focus group of Utah voters and two roundtable discussions with policy experts. Feedback and considerations from these groups provide the voter depth and context for each issue covered in the brief.
As a general theme, participants expressed concern that decreasing housing affordability, low education funding, and stagnant wage growth for low and middle income Utahns will soon result in a stifled economy, rather than continued economic growth. It was also acknowledged the ripple effect Medicaid expansion and housing affordability solutions would have for those experiencing homelessness.
Participants wondered whether ballot initiatives were an effective policy process to address these complicated problems. One stated, “it’s an indication that the pressure has built so much; the legislature has not taken significant action the public feels should happen.” Another countered, wondering if this is the outcome of mixed signals given to elected officials that the public wants changes they aren’t willing to pay for. There was concern voters might experience “tax fatigue” due to the amount of propositions on the 2018 ballot.
Once an issue had been discussed and deliberated, participants were asked:
- If you could ask the candidates a question, what would it be?
Here’s a sample of what we heard:
- Whether [ballot question 1] passes or not, we need education funding tied to outcomes. If it doesn’t pass, what will they do to improve funding and how will they tie it outcomes?
- If Medicaid expansion passes, how will we meet the needs of those in rural Utah who aren’t equipped with adequate number of healthcare facilities to meet the new need?
- Is the tourism earmarking fund necessary anymore? It has been too successful, and that money could go elsewhere.
- We need to address our economic development strategy. The fact that we keep giving away everything in order to lure businesses will become a big issue in the next 18 months. What is your solution?
- How do we get the private sector on board to help address the housing affordability crisis? They want to build for the middle class because that’s what they can sell for profit, but that is not where the needs lie.
- Where do you see the state of Utah 10 to 15 years from now on issues like housing, wage gap, job loss due to automation, healthcare etc.?
- Is there a department responsible for auditing how our money is spent so we can hold government responsible?
- Where do you get your information from? How do you plan to learn about issues?
While thoughtful questions and sentiments, it should be noted that qualitative research is not representative of the population, but instead help in understanding different perspectives and experiences behind an issue.
Marin Christensen is a research associate at the Gardner Policy Institute.