Casper Star Tribune: Poll finds Wyoming voters place emphasis on conservation issues

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Michael Illiano  (Wyoming News Exchange)

SHERIDAN — Wyoming voters heavily weight conservation issues when considering candidates for public office, according to a poll from the Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming released last week.

The poll, which surveyed 600 Wyoming voters, concluded that conservation issues were as, if not more, important than issues like health care and the economy.

Director of the Ruckelshaus Institute Nicole Korfanta said conservation concerns are likely more important in Wyoming because Wyoming voters spend more time outdoors than voters in other states.

“These results show that Wyoming voters identify as hunters, anglers and outdoor recreationists at much higher rates than the national level,” Korfanta said. “It should come as no surprise, then, that Wyoming voters in all corners of the state value conservation and oppose efforts that would negatively impact the open spaces and wildlife that contribute to the high quality of life for people in the state.”

As a result, voters across party lines overwhelmingly responded that conservation issues were a major consideration. The poll showed 91 percent of voters said conservation was at least somewhat important, and 55 percent said they were very or of primary importance; a majority of the voters who responded the issues were a high priority lived in rural areas.

As a broad category, conservation issues ranked close to other major political issues. For comparison, 80 percent of voters polled said quality public education was an important issue, while 57 percent said it was extremely or of primary importance. Conservation issues were also a greater concern than health care — which 77 percent of voters said was important and 49 percent said was extremely important — and jobs — which 82 percent said was an important issue and 43 percent said was extremely important.

Lori Weigel, the partner at Public Opinion Strategies who conducted the poll, said those responses differed considerably from the rest of the country.

“I think it’s a good reminder that Wyoming is unique,” Weigel said. “The fact that a range of conservation issues were on par with things like the economy is extremely rare.”

Enthusiasm for conservation issues was so strong that the poll found a majority of the voters surveyed, 59 percent, would support local tax increases to fund conservation efforts. That percentage has risen significantly from a similar study in 2014 that showed only 50 percent of the voters surveyed would support a tax increase.

The poll also showed that concerns over conservation issues have increased significantly since 2014, which Weigel said is consistent with national trends.

The poll also showed the majority of Wyoming voters are opposed to the state taking control of public lands, an issue that has popped up in several races during the current political cycle. Overall, 54 percent of the voters surveyed said they oppose state control of public lands. The majority of both Republican and Democratic voters said they were opposed, though that opposition was more pronounced among Democratic voters.