A new survey asked Wyomingites for their opinions on a number of hot-button issues facing the Wyoming Legislature this session — including public lands, marijuana, “stand your ground” legislation and separation of church and state.
While many of the proposed bills relating to these issues have already failed, others are still in play, and Brian Harnisch — a senior research scientist with the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center — said the survey could provide valuable information to state lawmakers.
“A lot of time, at the state, what we hear is anecdotal evidence about what constituents may or may not feel, so what we wanted to do is provide a tool that can actually … say, ‘This is what the citizens of Wyoming as a whole feel about these issues,’” Harnisch said.
While most surveys conducted by WYSAC take weeks or months to complete, the 2018 Legislative Session Survey of Wyoming Citizens was fielded in four days, gathering responses from 694 survey completions, while using an online probability-based panel of respondents called WyoSpeaks.
Harnisch said the panel ensures everyone in Wyoming has an equal chance of being asked to participate.
“The WyoSpeaks panel is a tool we’ve been developing for almost two years now — the idea being that we build a probability panel of Wyoming citizens to enable us to do these fast-turnaround, low-cost, web-based surveys that produce statistically valid results,” he said.
Though the legislative-issues survey is the first publication based on the WyoSpeaks panel, WYSAC has performed “test runs” before.
“We’ve tested the panel — against our scientifically-rigorous telephone survey results for the same questions — to make sure that we got results that were statistically valid and comparable to those really robust, scientifically rigorous methodology questions,” Harnisch said.
He added he hopes the survey and future similar surveys will be used by state legislators to gauge public opinion. Given the quick turnaround time and low cost of WyoSpeaks panel survey, Harnisch said the survey could be deployed more frequently and maybe even multiple times throughout the year.
“As we develop this — this is still in its infancy — I’d like to have more of a partnership with the Legislature,” he said. “(If) we know about some issues that might be coming up, we can actually get a bit of a head start and try to get this information out to the Legislature as a service to them to make sure they’re informed about what the citizens of the state actually feel about the issues.”
The survey found Wyoming residents were divided on issues related to the transfer of public lands, with 43 percent saying they support the transfer of federal lands to the state and 41 percent saying they oppose. There was a similar split on whether the state could financially handle the management of land being transferred.
However, a majority of residents — 71 percent — said they oppose the state selling off public lands to raise revenue for the management of remaining lands, and an even greater majority — 76 percent — said they oppose the state selling off public lands to reduce budget deficits.
More than half — 55 percent — agree the state could do a better job of managing public lands in Wyoming than the federal government.
A plurality — 47 percent — said they would support an amendment clarifying how the state would handle public lands transferred from federal to state control. House Bill 131 — which speaks to this issue — failed introduction Feb. 14.
A majority of residents — 70 percent — support medical marijuana and oppose jail time for minor possession convictions, but residents are divided on issues of recreational marijuana, according to the study.
A plurality — 49 percent — said they oppose allowing adults to legally possess marijuana for personal use, while 43 percent support it.
A proposed house bill seeking to establish penalties for edible marijuana products failed introduction one day before the survey period began, but a senate file providing for similar penalties has passed the Senate and been referred to committee in the House.
The survey finds residents are divided on the issue, with 33 percent saying they support a bill with such penalties but 37 saying they oppose such a bill.
‘Stand your ground’
Senate File 71, which would introduce “stand your ground” legislation to state statute, has considerable support in the Legislature. Sponsored by Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, the bill has 22 co-sponsors.
The bill also has support from a majority — 62 percent — of residents, according to the study. Senate File 71 was passed by the Senate Wednesday and referred to committee in the House the next day.
House Bill 70 — which would enable blockchain token, or cryptocurrency, trading in Wyoming — has citizens divided, with 18 percent saying they support it and 29 percent saying they oppose it, and more than half refusing to take a side — 28 percent of survey respondents say they neither support nor oppose it, while 25 percent say they don’t know or are not sure.
The bill was passed unanimously by the House and passed second reading in the Senate on Thursday.
‘In God We Trust’
A proposed bill requiring classrooms, school libraries, the state capitol building and other state-owned or leased buildings to display “In God We Trust” passed in the House and has been referred to committee in the Senate. A majority of Wyoming residents — 54 percent — said they support the bill, while 30 percent said they oppose it.
House Bill 8 — which would increase the punishments for stalking and was passed by both chambers — is supported by 83 percent of Wyoming residents, according to the study.
The study polled respondents on a number of tax proposals brought before the State Legislature this session, though the most popular bills are already dead.
A majority of Wyoming residents — 71 percent — said they support increasing the cigarette tax, while 70 percent supported increasing the tax on moist snuff. A bill doing both failed introduction Feb. 16, the day the survey began.
A bill increasing the tax on alcohol — supported by 64 percent of Wyoming residents — similarly failed introduction. The Legislature also killed a statewide lodging tax supported by a majority — 53 percent — of Wyoming residents.
A wind energy production tax hike, which divided residents, is also dead. While 40 percent of respondents said they support the bill, 34 percent said they oppose it.
A tax cut for the oil and gas industry — which is supported by 51 percent of Wyoming residents, according to the study — is still alive, having passed in the Senate and referred to committee in the House.