Survey looks at view of state

Some Illinois residents think the state is corrupt and are unhappy with the direction it is going in, according to the results of a recent poll.

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute conducted a poll in September that asked 1,261 registered Illinois voters about their opinions on a variety of topics that included the 2012 election and state policies. The results, which were released at a Sept. 27 and 28 Chicago conference on ethics and reform, showed nearly 70 percent of those polled thought Illinois is headed in the wrong direction.

About 60 percent of the registered voters thought Illinois’ state government is more corrupt than those in other states, according to the poll.

“We have been asking about ethics and political reforms in our statewide polls for several years now, and honest government was a primary concern for our institute’s founder, Sen. Paul Simon,” said Charles Leonard, the director of the poll. “Of course, in the wake of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s conviction and imprisonment, and calls for reform throughout the state, the institute thought it was time to try to focus academic, reform-community and media attention on the topic.”

According to numbers gathered by the institute over the last five years, less than 20 percent of Illinois voters thought Illinois is headed in the right direction.

Leonard said a range of factors, including budget deficits and public pension shortfalls, could be reason behind Illinoisans’ opinions.  He also said the state’s perceived culture of corruption could also lead to the voters’ dim views.

The institute also asked voters if they have confidence in the honesty of the U.S. election process. More than half of those surveyed — 56 percent — said they trust the system nationwide. However, only 50 percent trusted the voting process in Illinois elections.

The organization examined this by asking voters about a variety of election-related topics that included financial disclosure, conflict of interest, term lengths and the campaign process.

“We chose this topic because ethics and public corruption are long-term problems in Illinois politics,” John Jackson, professor at the institute,  said. “We touched on a number of other political and governmental issues in the poll, including several which were leads into the November elections.”

About 80 percent of the polled voters said it is very important or somewhat important for the tax returns of political officials to be released annually.

“It has become routine for candidates for higher office to release their tax returns,” Leonard said. “Many voters expect it. It shows where candidates get their income and whether there might be conflicts between their livelihoods and their official positions in government. And in a political environment full of negative campaigning, when candidates don’t release their returns, it gives their opponents an opportunity to say something like, ‘What does he have to hide?’”

Most citizens also said they would like to limit how long a lawmaker can be in office. About 78 percent of voters favor the limitation of state representatives to five consecutive two-year terms and state senators to three consecutive four-year terms.

“Term limits have been a popular reform proposal among voters all over the country for a long time,” Leonard said. “No matter what you think of term limits as an effective policy, supporting term limits certainly is a way for voters to say ‘throw the bums out,’ particularly when voters are as frustrated as Illinoisans are with their state government.”

The poll also asked voters about the state’s “revolving door” policy, which regulates what benefits the spouses and immediate family members of state employees can receive.

Leonard said the state’s policy is weaker than the policies of surrounding states.

“People essentially can go right from elected or appointed government positions into the private sector, even into areas where they used to be regulators and even after making favorable decisions for the industries which will employ them after their government service,” he said.

Stephen Brandt, a graduate student from Bloomington studying public health, said he thinks the results were too harsh. He said while the state has gone through some rough times recently, he thinks it is improving.

“We have probably hit bottom and are coming up,” he said. “I think we are on the way up instead of the way down right now. That being said, I think we are still in a bad place.”

Brandt said the state needs to be transparent and cut down on corruption. He said the state also needs to have fewer political leaders who end up in prison.

Jon Larson, a senior studying geography and environmental resources, said he wasn’t surprised by the results of the poll. He said he has noticed a lot of people complaining about the state.

Larson said he is also unhappy with the state’s direction, and he will head out of state for employment after graduation.

“Illinois needs to revaluate the budget and the way it spends money,” he said. “We have a big state with a lot of people. Every state-funded operation is owed money by the state.”

 

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