In 2018, Alabamians will elect a governor and five other statewide executive branch officers, 140 legislators, and scores of local officials. Those elected will lead Alabama for the next four years. These leaders should be responsive to the concerns of those they represent but also willing to help citizens understand critical, but perhaps less obvious, public policy issues. Such leadership requires understanding what issues most concern voters and what issues voters may not fully appreciate.
In this election year, PARCA surveyed Alabama voters to determine their thoughts about the general direction of the state and the issues that most concern them. We found broad agreement on the critical issues facing the state. Based on voter response, PARCA identified and ranked voters’ top 10 critical issues. Alabama Priorities explores this issue.
Alabama voters are eager to see improvement in K – 12 education, with 70% indicating they are very concerned about the state’s education system. Voters are worried about healthcare , particularly access and cost. With the recent resignations of a Governor, a Speaker of the House, and a state Supreme Court Justice, it should come as no surprise that voters are concerned about corruption and ethics. For many voters, mental health and substance abuse are not just theoretical problems—56% of Alabamians indicate they are very concerned about the issue. The poor and homeless have not been forgotten.
These issues, along with jobs and the economy, crime and public safety, job training and work force development, the state’s image, and tax reform comprise the top 10 list of Alabama’s priorities.
Perhaps this list should not come as a surprise. Previous polling by PARCA and other organizations have found similar results.
What is perhaps more surprising, however, is the extent to which these are shared priorities. We found few significant differences between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites, or other groups. While differences exist, Alabama voters are not polarized.
|1. K-12 Education|
|3. Government Corruption and Ethics|
|4. Mental Health and Substance Abuse|
|5. Poverty and Homelessness|
|6. Jobs and the Economy|
|7. Crime and Public Safety|
|8. Job Training and Workforce Development|
|9. Improving the State's Image|
|10. Tax Reform|
Experts and Voters: Differing Priorities
At the same time, while the data suggests broad agreement among voters, there is an area where significant gaps exist. PARCA surveyed business, civic, and nonprofit leaders, journalists, and academics. The differences between the priorities of these experts and voters were noticeable.
Four top 10 issues for voters fell outside the top 10 for experts:
- Mental health and substance abuse
- Poverty and homelessness
- Job training and workforce development
- Improving the state’s image
Conversely, experts identified four issues that did not register high on voters’ list of concerns:
- Infrastructure and transportation
- Prison and sentencing reform
- Funding state government
- Civil rights
Possible explanations as to why some issues are more important to voters and others more important to experts are offered in the “Differences Between Experts and Voters” section of the report. three implications are suggested.
The data suggest four implications.
- Voters are not polarized along traditional political, ideological, racial or generational lines.
- There is a significant gap between the priorities of experts and the priorities of voters.
- Policymakers have a two-fold opportunity to inform and educate voters on critical and systemic challenges facing the state.
- Policymakers have an opportunity to respond to immediate, often highly personal issues that concern voters.
This research suggests that elected officials and candidates have an opportunity to show leadership and to build broad coalitions to address Alabama’s most pressing challenges.