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Idaho voters against repeal of 17th Amendment

Poll also shows support for tea party agenda

BOISE – Idahoans are dead-set against handing over selection of U.S. senators to the state Legislature, and Idaho Republicans are even more against the idea than Democrats or the state as a whole, according to a new poll.

Yet that move is a plank in the Idaho Republican Party platform, raising questions about how closely the leadership of the state’s largest political party reflects its members.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of Idaho Republicans, and nearly half of the state as a whole, say they generally support the agenda of the tea party movement, with the numbers in North Idaho rising to a 56 percent majority, compared to 47 percent support in southeastern Idaho and 43 percent in the Treasure Valley.

“I lean Republican real hard,” said Tom Duman, of Craigmont, who was among the 625 Idahoans polled. But as for repealing the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – direct election of senators – “they need to rethink that,” said Duman, a 55-year-old agricultural co-op manager. “I think you should be able to choose your official, somebody else shouldn’t pick’em. That way, if the bum’s not performing, we can throw him out – like we’re trying to do now.”

The Idaho Newspaper poll, commissioned by The Spokesman-Review and six other Idaho newspapers, showed a divided state when it comes to political party affiliation, even though Republicans overwhelmingly dominate state elective offices and the Legislature. Among poll respondents, 47 percent said they consider themselves Republicans, 22 percent consider themselves Democrats, and 31 percent chose “independent or other.”

“I used to say I’m a Democrat in my heart and a Republican in my pocket, but I kind of don’t say that any more,” said Paula Tucker of Nampa, a 47-year-old stay-at-home mom. “The Republican Party I think has lost its way with their fiscal perspective – they’ve said one thing and done another.”

When compared to past Boise State University public policy surveys, which have measured party affiliation in Idaho for the past two decades, the new poll “would seem to indicate the Republicans gaining a little ground,” said Jim Weatherby, BSU political scientist emeritus. “They have before when the Democrats have been in the White House. But it is also interesting to me how stable these numbers are over time, and how this is such a Republican state when it comes to elective office, but never have I seen a poll that indicated that a majority of Idahoans identified themselves as being Republicans.”

The 47 percent tally for Republicans matches the highest mark the party got in the BSU survey over the last decade and a half, in 2005, though it’s up from the 2008 survey’s 40 percent. The 22 percent figure for Democrats is down from 25 percent in 2008, but equal to marks set several times in the past decade.

Jonathan Parker, Idaho Republican Party executive director, said, “A lot of people that are conservative, who agree with many things in the Republican Party platform, don’t necessarily consider themselves Republican. … I think you’re seeing a shift of those conservatives who are coming back.”

Idaho’s election results show many of those who say they’re independents vote Republican, Parker said.

But independents differed from Republicans in the new poll on the question about generally supporting the agenda of the tea party movement, with Republicans overwhelmingly in support – 69 percent supporting to 13 percent opposed – and independents with 38 percent supportive and 45 percent opposed. Among Democrats, just 18 percent supported the movement, and 75 percent were opposed; the statewide figure was 48 percent in favor, 37 percent opposed.

“We’ve certainly speculated a lot over the years about who these independents are,” Weatherby said. “That gives you an idea they’re a little more moderate than Republican voters.”

Jim Hansen, executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party, said people are frustrated over everything from a severe economic downturn to concerns about affording health care. “The frustrations and the feelings and sentiments are very real.” But, he said, “When you say what is the solution, you get a long list of different ideas. Is repealing the 17th Amendment a solution?”

Parker said the Idaho Republican Party is strongly supportive of states’ rights, and that’s what delegates had in mind when they pushed for the platform plank on 17th Amendment repeal.

“I think you would see a strong majority of Republicans supportive of granting more rights to the states, less to the federal government,” he said.

The 17th Amendment was enacted in 1913 during the nation’s progressive era, after problems with legislative selection that included Senate seats going unfilled for years at a time because state legislatures couldn’t agree on candidates, and senators ejected from office for bribing state legislators to win their seats. Backers of repeal say it would restore a formal role for states in the operation of the federal government that the amendment eliminated.

Chris Roeper, of Emmett, a 47-year-old paint store operations manager and self-described conservative, said, “I think it’s just a step in taking some of the power and the responsibility away from the people, and I think the power needs to lie with the people.”

Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington, D.C., interviewed 625 randomly chosen registered Idaho voters Sept. 13-15, limiting the interviews to people who said they are likely to vote in November. The statewide poll’s margin of error is 4 percentage points, with a 95 percent probability that results would fall within that margin if the entire population were sampled.

Sixty additional interviews were conducted in the 1st Congressional District to bring the total sample size there to 400 likely voters, and 15 additional interviews were conducted in the Second Congressional District to bring the sample size there to 300. The margins of error are 5 percent in the First District and 6 percent in the Second. The extra interviews covered only the congressional races.

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