Americans today are a grumpy lot. Overall, the economy is pretty strong but U.S. voters are not satisfied with the current direction of the country.
The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls show that only 32.3% of Americans surveyed believe the United States is moving in the right direction while a whopping 59.3% think the country is on the wrong track.
How do Idahoans perceive the direction of Idaho? An August 2017 Dan Jones/Idaho Politics Weekly poll found that 63% of Idahoans think Idaho is moving in the right direction while only 21% think it is going in the wrong direction.
That optimism is likely rooted in Idaho’s strong economy. Idaho’s November unemployment rate was a low 2.9. And, the Census Bureau just revealed that Idaho was the nation’s fastest growing state in population over the past year.
But, how will the attitude of Idaho voters translate at the ballot box? Are they inclined to reward candidates who support current policies or are they ready to embrace change? That is the key to figuring out Idaho’s 2018 elections.
The recently completed municipal elections did not help. Incumbent mayors were defeated in Nampa and Blackfoot. In Idaho Falls, incumbent Mayor Rebecca Casper was outspent roughly 2-1 by four opponents and a hostile PAC. But she romped to a solid 61% victory based on a strong local economy and a perception of forward momentum.
Each of the GOP candidates for governor are posturing to tap the mood of Idaho’s Republican voters in the May primary.
Both Rep. Raul Labrador and Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist are running as outsiders vowing to shake up state government. Both have outlined a series of policies designed to show their willingness to confront “the establishment”.
Labrador told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho conference last month that Idaho state government “needs to be slashed.” He opposes Common Core and backs school vouchers, both of which would redirect Idaho education. And, he has been critical of the current leadership in Boise.
Ahlquist has taken a similar tack, also supporting vouchers and wanting to cut state spending by $100 million a year. He backs term limits and has a strong ethics package on the table.
Only Lt. Gov. Brad Little is embracing the idea that Idaho is generally moving forward and that he’ll continue the upward trajectory, building on Gov. Otter’s current policies.
His approach seems to have some merit. The previously cited Dan Jones poll found that 76% of Idaho Republicans favor Idaho’s current direction.
I suspect both Labrador and Ahlquist hope to sell a compelling vision that convinces Idaho Republicans that change (ie. picking them) is worth the risk. Whether they can do so successfully remains to be seen.
This same dynamic will play out in other Idaho races. If you are an Idaho Democrat running for statewide office or a local one, do you criticize or embrace Idaho’s current direction? If you are a Republican in a multi-candidate primary, is it better to be the critic or argue how you can reshape current policies?
Every candidate will need to navigate this thicket. Those who correctly gauge the mood of the Idaho electorate will be rewarded. Those who don’t will likely lose.