Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Poll: Voters say Illinois is corrupt and heading in wrong direction

By Jamey Dunn

According to a new poll, the majority of registered voters in Illinois are unhappy with the direction the state is going, and most surveyed said Illinois is more corrupt than other states.

Respondents to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute’s annual poll had a rather low opinion of the state. Almost 70 percent said that they thought the state was headed “in the wrong direction,” and 58 percent said that Illinois is more corrupt than other states. More than 75 percent of respondents said that corruption is widespread in the state. Illinois voters also pointed the finger at business. About 62 percent said that they believed that corruption is widespread in Illinois business. Between September 4 and September 10, 1,261 registered voters across the state were surveyed for the institute’s poll. The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 2.77 percentage points.

Charles Leonard, a visiting professor with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said the negative views of the state’s institution are damaging not only to government but also to the private sector. “That just can’t be good for policy or the economy.” More respondents said that Illinois was on a negative trajectory than said that the country was on the wrong path. Still, almost half of respondents said they thought the country is headed in the wrong direction. Leonard said this response is not typical. He said that often in polls, respondents say that their home state is doing at least a little better than the country as a whole.

 Illinois has gotten a bad rap in all of the institute’s recent polls. Since 2008, fewer than one in five voters said that the state was heading in the right direction.

People were more positive about their own towns or areas of the state. About 54 percent of respondents said that things were headed in the right direction in their city or area of the state. More than 80 percent of respondents rated their own quality of life as average or better, and nearly half said that their quality of life was “good” or “excellent.”

While social issues have become political lightning rods during the presidential campaign, this poll indicates that Illinois voters lean to the left. The majority of respondents favor some form of legal recognition for same-sex couples, and 43.6 percent supported same-sex marriage. The last time the institute asked the question was in 2010, when 33.6 percent of respondents said they backed same-sex marriage. In the poll released today, about 20 percent said they opposed any legal recognition for same sex relationships. More than 80 percent said abortions should be legal either under all circumstances or under some circumstances, and almost 16 percent said it should be illegal under all circumstances.

Respondents favored several ethics measures. Almost eight in 10 favored term limits for lawmakers. About 78 percent favored limiting the amount of time a lawmaker can serve in leadership roles, such as speaker of the House and president of the Senate. More than 60 percent supported limits on the amount of campaign cash that party leaders can give to candidates.

More than half of respondents said they were “strongly opposed” the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which opened to door for so-called Super PACs to spend unlimited funds anonymously. However, most respondents were skeptical about the ability of campaign contribution limits to curb corruption and agreed that “money always finds a way to influence politics.” They instead favored the “complete immediate disclosure of all contributions.”

Those surveyed supported more personal disclosure from candidates as well. The majority said it was “very important to know” whether a candidate for the General Assembly is a lobbyist or is related to a lobbyist, is part of an organization that receives funds from the state or has business interests that could benefit from public policy decisions. Almost 70 percent backed a one-year waiting period for former lawmakers before they could become lobbyists.

Leonard said that more drastic ethics measures, such as term limits are unlikely. “It’s probably not realistic that the leaderships would allow the legislature to impose these on itself.” However, he said more disclosure of elected officials' personal finances and businesses interests could go a long way toward repairing the state’s reputation. “It’s my contention that some of these ethical reforms, the legislature could impose on itself relatively painlessly.”

He asked: “Why not say: ‘Hey we heard you. We’re honest. These things won’t hurt us. We aren’t scared.’?”


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