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Air Quality Near To Top Of Voter Concerns, Poll Shows

Judy Fahys
Shawn Tiegen, research director at the non-partisan, non-profit Utah Foundation, often rides a bike to work. It's a pollution strategy favored by 61 percent of liberals, 46 percent of moderates and 31 percent of conservatives.

A new study names air quality as the second-highest priority for Utah voters. More than two-thirds of voters who were polled by the non-partisan Utah Foundation say they are pretty concerned about the issue.

The last time the Utah Foundation developed its Utah Priorities list was four years ago, and the environment ranked 7th. But this year the importance of clean air shot up -- maybe because the polling was being done after an especially bad episode of wintertime pollution.  Shawn Teigan, the Utah Foundation’s research director, says the concern about bad air isn’t limited to the places where it’s worst.

“Even people off the Wasatch Front,” says Teigen. On “the Wasatch Front, even more people were concerned about it, but even off the Wasatch Front we found that there was concern.”

The group hired pollsters to hone its top-ten list. And this time air came in at the top, just below health care. Eighty-seven percent of liberals and 58 percent of conservatives called it an important issue. Liberal voters were more than three times more likely than conservatives to say that government should act to improve air quality -- even if the moves raise taxes or put jobs at risk.

But Teigen doesn’t think the issue will change the outcome of any elections in Utah.

“People take these issues seriously,” he says, “but I’m not sure that air quality is going to change anybody’s minds when they go in to vote.”

The survey also showed that conservatives were less willing to change their commutes to improve air quality than liberals were.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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