The Utah Foundation Board of Trustees sets the research agenda at the beginning of each year, and responds with guidance and adjustments as the year goes along. At the end of the year, board members also look back at the Foundation’s work and evaluate the relative impact our research reports have had on the community and policy makers.
We recently asked them to evaluate our efforts in 2015, with members voting on the significance of the findings from each project. We’ve now ranked these based on the number of votes they received from our trustees. As we begin our work for 2016, we’d like to look at each of these issues on its own.
Here’s the list:
- Transportation Funding – 82% of city and 95% of county respondents believe current transportation funding is insufficient.
- Early Childhood Education – In Utah, 13% of 5-year-olds attend full-day kindergarten. In Colorado, 74% of 5-year-olds attend full-day kindergarten.
- Tuition Burden – Higher education is relying more on tuition than in past years, up from just over one-quarter in 2000.
- Non-competitive Elections – Over 90% of Utah election races in 2014 were uncontested or considered uncompetitive.
- Tax Burden – Utah’s tax burden is $111.60 per $1,000 of personal income, the lowest burden in the last 20 years.
- Vote-by-Mail Works! Vote-by-mail cities saw an increase in turnout from 21% in 2011 to 38% in 2015.
- Quality of Life – The Utah Foundation Quality of Life index decreased primarily due to quality decreases in traffic conditions, safety and security from crime and having family nearby.
- Mobile Phone Use – U of U research shows hands-free calls while driving cause an impairment equivalent to handheld calls. That is equal to being just over the legal limit for driving with alcohol in your system.
- Quality of Life – Non-Wasatch Front respondents and respondents with higher education reported higher quality of life ratings than peers
- Millennial Religious Affiliation – Approximately 30% of Utah Millennial survey respondents identified as religiously unaffiliated, which is comparable to their national peers and higher than any other generation in Utah
Let’s begin with Issue #10: Millennial Religious Affiliation. This came up in our Research Report #730a, the first of a four-part series on the attitudes and characteristics of Utah’s Millennial generation compared to older adults. “Approximately 30% of Millennial respondents to the Utah Foundation survey,” it said, “identify as religiously unaffiliated, which is comparable to their national peers (36%) and higher than any other generation in Utah.”
As it turns out, Utah’s Millennials are still more likely to express a religious affiliation and to say religion is important in their lives than their peers nationwide. But while many young adults across the country rank the issue low in relative importance, Utah’s Millennials tend to have strong feelings. They rank religion as either very important – or not important at all.
Utah Foundation Research Director Shawn Teigen says this trend is also something that could change Utah’s political landscape over the long term.
“The population is becoming more diverse,” Teigen says, “and there’s a larger population of people of color than there have been in the past, and that population also tends not to vote conservatively. Potentially, they’re even more likely not to vote conservatively given some things that have been happening in the media as of late. I think, culturally, I think people are interested in it for that respect, but I think there’s also something to be said for people’s interest in it because, either they’re excited or they have a concern about the potential changing of the political landscape.”
Two other items on the Top Ten list identified by Utah Foundation board members also deal with voting and elections. A research report released in December showed a big increase in voter participation in cities that used the vote-by-mail system in the 2015 municipal elections. The same report suggests a lack of competitive election contests in Utah might be keeping voters at home on election day. We’ll look at those questions in more depth in upcoming posts.