October 21, 2013

Poll: Southern Illinois voters are in a bad mood

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois voters are in a pretty bad mood, according to a new poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

  • They have a negative view of the directions the state and nation are currently going.  They are somewhat happier about their local cities and the Southern Illinois region.
  • They are guarded in their views about their own finances and the financial future for themselves and others. Most say they just doing the same as they were a year ago.
  • When it comes to making the state’s pension systems sound, they generally oppose having local school districts pay pension costs, having public employees pay more or having current retirees pay for their health insurance.

The poll of registered voters in 18 counties south of Interstate 64 was taken Sept. 20 through Oct. 2.  The survey was based on a random sample of 403 registered voters who responded to telephone interviews; 30 percent of the sample was made up of cell phone users. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Results of the poll are available here.

Right Direction: Wrong Direction

Voters were asked the following:  “Generally speaking, do you think things in our country are going in the right direction, or are they off track and heading in the wrong direction?” The question was repeated for the state of Illinois and for “in your city or area of the state.” The following were the results for each level of government:

  • 14.9 percent said the nation was going in the right direction while 73.5 percent chose the wrong direction.
  • 10 percent said the state was going in the right direction while 82.9 percent chose the wrong direction.
  • However, 51.9 percent said their city or area was going in the right direction while 38 percent chose the wrong direction.

There were dramatic party differences regarding the direction of the nation.  Ninety-four percent of the Republicans said the country was going in the wrong direction while only 4 percent said the right direction.  In contrast, 52.4 percent of the Democrats said wrong direction and 30.9 percent said right direction.  The Independents scored in between the two partisan groups.

Those partisan differences also carried over into ratings of state and local directions. 

“The overall results of this study, coupled with our earlier polls, make it evident that those who are dissatisfied and disgruntled about the general direction of the state and nation constitute a solid majority of Southern Illinois voters.  It is notable that for the majority this negativism doesn’t carry over to their local city or the Southern Illinois area in general,” said John Jackson, one of the co-directors of the poll. 

Financial Outlook

Most voters said they were doing “about the same” financially as a year ago.  More people said they were “doing worse” than said they were “doing better.” 

Respondents were asked the following questions:  1). “Overall and generally speaking, would you say your family’s economic situation is better than it was a year ago, worse than it was a year ago, or about the same?”  2).  “Overall and generally speaking, would you expect your family’s economic situation next year will be better than it has been this year, worse than it has been this year, or about the same as this year?”

The following were the results for each of these three economic outlook questions:

  • 11.2 percent said they were doing better than a year ago; 30 percent said they were doing worse, while 58.6 percent said they were about the same
  • 15.4 percent said they expected their family’s economic situation to be better in the coming year; 23.8 percent said they would be doing worse, while 58.1 percent said they would be doing about the same

Budget Deficit and Pension Reform

Illinois has some widely recognized budgetary problems and has been facing a long running discussion of what to do about its underfunded pension system.  Pension reform is the most immediate problem and the following questions addressed that issue. 

Questioners asked:

“One part of Illinois’ budget problem is its huge obligation to state employee pension funds.  I’m going to read some proposals people have made to fix the pension obligation problem.  For each one that I read, please tell me if you favor or oppose that proposal.”  The results were:

  • Relieve the state’s obligation to the teachers’ pension fund by having local school districts make their teachers’ pension contributions:  29.3 percent favored; 55.1 percent opposed, 15.6 percent don’t know.
  • Increase the required pension contribution for current state employees: 48.4 percent favored; 38.2 percent opposed, 13.4 percent don’t know.
  • Ask current retirees to contribute to the cost of their state health insurance plan: 39 percent favored; 52.1 percent opposed, 8.9 percent don’t know.

“Fixing the public pension system in Illinois will require some strong medicine,” said David Yepsen, director of the Institute.  “It’s pretty clear people in Southern Illinois don’t want local schools, current state employees or retirees to pay more.  I’m afraid all that leaves is cutting other state programs to increase pension payments -- or higher taxes.  We know from earlier polls that neither of those options is very popular either.”       

The poll of 403 registered voters covered the 18 southernmost counties in Illinois:  Alexander, Franklin, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Massac, Perry, Pope, Pulaski, Randolph, Saline, Union, Washington, White, and Williamson.  Live phone interviews were conducted September 20 through October 2.  The sample has a margin for error of 4.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.  This means that if we conducted the survey 100 times, in 95 of those instances, the result would be within plus or minus 4.9 percentage points from the results obtained here. The sample included 30 percent cell phone interviews. 

Telephone interviews were conducted by Customer Research International of San Marcos, Texas.  It reports no Illinois political figures as clients.  The poll was paid for with non-state dollars using proceeds from the Institute’s endowment fund.

Note:  The “Simon Poll” and “Southern Illinois Poll” are copyrighted trademarks of the Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University.  Use of publication of these polls is encouraged, but only with credit to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.