Feb 15, 2023 - News

Cost of living and water dominate Western concerns, new poll finds

Serious problems for residents of western U.S. states
Data: Colorado College State of the Rockies Project Conservation in the West Poll; Note: States surveyed are Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming; Chart: Axios Visuals

Affordability and water are the most pressing concerns in the Mountain West, according to the annual Conservation in the West poll released Wednesday.

By the numbers: 78% of residents in eight Mountain West states rank cost of living and gas prices as the most serious concerns, the Colorado College survey found.

  • Drought, river levels and water supplies rounded out the top five issues among the 14 polled. All counted as top concerns for at least 60% of registered voters.

Why it matters: The elevated worries — an important benchmark for policymakers — show the Western way of life is at risk as inflation and climate change erode dreams of finding new lives in wide-open spaces.

What they're saying: Increasing populations and the pandemic's outdoor boom are creating new pressures that affect the outlook.

  • "That concern about way of life — access to the outdoors, access to wildlife and all — that is really part of that picture of the new pressures we're seeing coming to bear," said Lori Weigel, a Republican pollster at New Bridge Strategy in Colorado.

The other side: Crowded parks, oil and gas drilling impacts, population growth and wildfire smoke rank lower on the list. Less than half of Western voters rank these issues as serious concerns.

  • 49% consider climate change a serious worry, the poll found, up from one-quarter in 2011.

Between the lines: The poll was conducted Jan. 5-22 in English and Spanish by a bipartisan team of pollsters. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 2.4 percentage points overall and 4.9 points for individual state results.

Of note: The Colorado River — which supplies water to nearly 40 million people — remains a significant concern in states that rely on it.

  • 86% of respondents in Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and Utah say the river is vital to their economy, particularly tourism and recreation.

Zoom in: The top concerns shift by state, the poll found.

In Colorado, cost of living tops the list with 82% listing it as a serious concern.

  • Second is uncontrollable wildfires destroying homes, an indication of the destructive Marshall Fire that hit Boulder County.
  • The issue of crowded recreation sites is higher in Colorado than other Mountain West states.

In Arizona, low river water levels and inadequate water supplies lead their concerns. It's among the highest of all states, given its downstream status on the Colorado River.

  • The other major fears are cost of living and drought, respectively.

In Utah, cost of living and drought are the most significant concerns, followed by water issues.

  • Rising gas prices are a bigger concern than most states.
  • Climate change and the impact of oil and gas drilling rank among the lowest in all Mountain West states, reflecting the state's conservative politics.
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