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Sounding Out Idaho Lop-Sided Plea: Balance The Budget Budget Outstrips Other Concerns In Idaho, Poll Shows

Sat., May 25, 1996

Copyright 1996, The Idaho Spokesman-Review

If Congress and President Clinton want to restore Idaho voters’ faith in their government - and it needs a major restoration job - there is one thing they could do.

It’s a no brainer: Balance the budget. A scientific survey shows voters are nearly unanimous in their concern about the nation’s red ink.

They are more split on whether this year’s crop of candidates should promise them a tax cut or change gun control laws. They lean strongly toward turning federal lands over to the state for safekeeping but away from selling it off to private owners.

Yet the importance of those issues pales by comparison to concern over a balanced budget. That’s the message of the survey, conducted this month for The Idaho Spokesman-Review, KHQ-TV and KTVB in Boise.

More than nine voters out of 10 said it’s important for Clinton and Congress to agree on a plan to balance the budget in seven years. Only 2 percent said a balanced budget was “not at all important.”

“This is what we find everywhere, although it is stronger in Idaho than most other places,” said Del Ali, an analyst who designed the Mason Dixon Political/Media Research poll.

In the survey, 75 percent of all women and 69 percent of all men said agreement on a balanced budget was “very important” to them.

Independent presidential candidate Ross Perot deserves some credit for that, by making it a cornerstone of his 1992 campaign, Ali said. The issue continues to have support, even though only 7 percent of those surveyed said they would vote for Perot for president.

Although a majority of Idaho voters also said a tax cut is important, stopping the red ink is clearly more important if politicians have to choose between the two.

Only about one voter in four - 25 percent of women and 29 percent of men - listed a tax cut as “very important.”

The survey could provide a note of caution for Congress, which is considering a Republican plan to repeal a 4.3 cent per gallon gas tax, Ali said. If the tax is lifted and consumers don’t see the prices come down at the local gas pump, there could be a backlash. Voters will assume their tax cut went into the coffers of the oil companies.

The poll reflects a deep cynicism of Idahoans toward their government in Washington, D.C.

Asked to grade the federal government “when it comes to doing the right thing,” a fourth of the voters offered a grade of “D.” One in five gave an “F.”

No one gave the feds an “A.”

The 802 likely voters also were asked whether they agree with the statement “the people running the country don’t really care what happens to me.”

Six out of 10 said they agreed.

Because of that, Idaho voters may be anxious to end the federal government role in managing land inside their borders. About two-thirds of Idaho’s territory is under federal control, either as forests, rangeland, wilderness or parks.

Fifty-nine percent of voters - nearly three out of five - said the feds should turn over management of those lands to the state. But most voters were reluctant to end all government management of land. Only one voter in three said the federal government should sell some of its landholdings to private owners.

Another important topic for congressional and presidential candidates campaigning in Idaho will be gun control.

Fifty-nine percent of voters said they believe federal candidates should support changes in the nation’s gun control laws.

But candidates will find the kind of changes particularly vexing.

Voters who said they want changes were asked a second question. Do they want more restrictions on guns, or should the government relax current laws, such as the waiting periods for handgun purchase and the ban on so-called military-style assault weapons.

Two-thirds of the men said relax the laws. Sixty percent of women said they want more restrictions.

Compared with four years ago - the last time the nation picked a president - a majority of voters said they are better off today. Only one in four said they were worse off.

That’s not surprising, because unemployment in Idaho is relatively low, Ali said.

But Idaho’s sense of better economic times doesn’t translate into support for incumbent Clinton. Only about one voter in three said they would vote for him if the election were held today.

“They don’t give Clinton any credit,” Ali said. “Maybe some of it goes to (Gov. Phil) Batt,” who has high approval ratings.

Voters also may transfer their feelings about a better economy to their congressional delegation. Despite the general ill-will toward the federal government, a majority of voters had positive feelings toward three of the state’s four members of Congress.

That’s not surprising, even though Idaho voters generally dislike the federal government, Ali said.

“People often say it’s not their senator, it’s not their congressman that’s screwing up. It’s someone else’s,” he said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Graphics: What the voters want; Better or worse?; and Facing the issue of land

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Jim Camden Staff writer Staff writer Betsy Z. Russell contributed to this report.

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