Do Utahns support Bears Ears National Monument, and if so how much?
Photo : John Fowler / CC BY 2.0

Do Utahns support Bears Ears National Monument and if so how much?

We have been dealing with the Bears Ears National Monument designation for over a year, and the fracas shows no signs of letting up anytime soon. President Trump’s move to reduce the size of Bears Ears has many lawsuits in the works while Utah’s Congressional delegation is pushing H.R. 4532, under leadership of Utah’s new Congressman John Curtis, to create two new national monuments in lieu of the larger Bears Ears. Meanwhile, Utah works feverishly to have the trial venue moved from Washington D.C. to Utah, where they hope to secure a more favorable outcome in their home court — no pun intended.

But, legal matters aside, how do Utah’s citizens feel about the Bears Ears designation? Two new polls have come out recently. This makes five polls of which I’m aware that address the Bears Ears issue. All polls have come out with slightly different results, which is not that surprising given the nature of polls. I got curious about it and began looking into the matter. Let me be the first to admit that I am not a statistician or a poll expert. That said, I have done my best to review the polls and present some findings. The polls in chronological order are:

May 2016: Creation Justice Ministries poll by Public Opinion Strategies (75 percent support BENM, 20 percent oppose)

June 2016: Hinckley/Tribune poll by SurveyUSA (33 percent support BENM, 39 percent oppose, 28 percent unsure)

July 2016: Pew Charitable Trusts poll by Benenson Strategy Group and Public Opinion Strategies (53 percent support BENM, 41 percent opposition) (available upon request of Pew)

August 2016: Utah Policy poll by Dan Jones & Associates (19 percent support BENM, 35 percent support PLI, 29 percent do nothing-leave as is) (requested of Utah Policy and DJ&A but not received)

January 2018: Colorado College’s Conservation in the West Poll in conjunction with Lori Weigel, Public Opinion Strategies and Dave Metz, Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (49 percent support BENM, 46 percent oppose).

For those who do not want all the pesky details, jump to the end for summation of my findings.

 

In May 2016, Creation Justice Ministries commissioned Public Opinion Strategies to poll Utah voters regarding their support for the proposed Bears Ears National Monument, which had not at that time been named. The poll, which questioned 500 registered Utah voters and has a +4.38 percent margin of error, found that 71 percent of Utah voters supported the proposed national monument; only 20 percent opposed it. Following the link to Creation Justice Ministries provides details on the poll’s questions and results in a very transparent manner.

Creation Justice Ministries’ pollster Public Opinion Strategies presents itself as “…one of the nation’s leading public opinion research firms specializing in political, public affairs, public policy, and corporate positioning research. Our roots are in political campaign management. As such, our research is focused on producing data that compels decisions — to get results.” Their polling work includes polls for the American Beverage Association, CNBC, Colorado League of Charter Schools, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, Wal-Mart, various political campaigns, and more. Public Opinion Strategies also conducted the Pew poll and helped in the Colorado College poll.

The poll sponsor contends that support for Bears Ears is broad-based and included 68 percent of those indicating their religion as Latter-Day Saints/Mormon. Majorities of all key subgroups who supported Bears Ears included the following:

—Seventy-seven percent of women and 65 percent of men.

—Eighty-five percent of voters under age 25, 72 percent of 25–34 year olds, 71 percent of 35–44 year olds, 68 percent of 45–64 year olds, and 72 percent of seniors.

—Seventy-five percent of voters in the Salt Lake area, 71 percent on the Wasatch front, and 67 percent in the rest of the state.

—Ninety-two percent of democrats, 73 percent of independents, and 63 percent of GOP voters.

—Sixty-five percent of sportsmen.

Respondents were given the opportunity to provide their rationale for supporting Bears Ears with most focusing on preserving the lands due to the Native American history and artifacts and the desire to preserve the natural and historic areas for future generations.

There was some confusion on the part of participants as to what can and cannot be done on national monument lands, particularly with regard to grazing but also camping and hunting. It should be noted that although all activities allowed prior to designation of a national monument are allowed, there may be adjustments made as could be made in any public land area based on science. For example, if there are years of extreme drought, grazing may be cut to protect the lands.

I found it particularly interesting that 68 percent of those polled when asked if they’d seen, read, or heard much about the Native American tribes asking for increased protections for public lands in the Bears Ears area said “not much or nothing at all.” Granted this poll was conducted fairly early in the coverage of this matter, but that still seemed like a high percentage.

The 500 persons polled were divided into two groups of 250 each. Each group was read two statements: one supporting Bears Ears and the other opposing. The statements included reasons for the supporting or opposing position. Both groups voted for the supporting statement — one 69 percent and the other 52 percent.

Sixty-six percent of the respondents described themselves as Mormon: 53 percent active LDS and 13 percent less active. Forty-five percent were republican, 15 percent were democrat, and 36 percent were independent or unaffiliated.

Given what I found at Creation Justice Ministries’ website, I thought I’d look into the other polls to see what I could learn. That turned out to be impossible in one case.

 

Between June 2 and 8 of 2016, a poll for the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah and the Salt Lake Tribune was conducted by Survey USA in which they asked 1,500 likely Utah voters, “Do you support or oppose designation of a Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah?” With a “credibility interval” of +/- 2.6 percent, 33 percent supported, 39 percent opposed, and 28 percent were unsure. SurveyUSA conducts surveys for a wide range of news agencies across the nation including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, New York Post, USA Today, The Weather Channel, and more. Their clients are spread evenly (25 percent each) among media, corporate, nonprofits and government/academic. SurveyUSA does thousands of polls. The one done for Hinckley/Tribune contained 30 questions; most were political with only the one Bears Ears question. So it was not an in-depth survey about the Bears Ears issue compared to other polls but does reveal some interesting information.

Of the 33 percent who supported Bears Ears in 2016 the majority (60 percent) were democrats and the second highest percent (36 percent) were independents. Perhaps not surprising and given Utah’s politics, of the 39 percent who opposed Bears Ears, 54 percent were republicans; only 25 percent were independents. Independents made up the largest share (39 percent) of those who were not sure, and surprisingly 35 percent of “not sure” group were republicans. The poll was spread evenly over all four of Utah’s U.S. Congressional Districts. Congressional District 3, which covers eastern Utah and includes Bears Ears, showed surprising poll results. You would think that there would have been very strong opposition in CD3 given all the rhetoric coming out of our Congressional delegation and state and local leaders. However, 33 percent supported, 38 percent opposed and a whopping 30 percent weren’t sure if they support or oppose. The majority of opposition came from Congressman Bishop’s District 1 (40 percent of the 39 percent total) and from Congresswoman Love’s District 4 (42 percent of the 39 percent total) — people who don’t even live in the Bears Ears area but have perhaps been convinced by their leaders that it’s a bad idea.

The SurveyUSA poll revealed details about the religious make up of those polled. Forty-nine percent of the 39 percent who opposed the original Bears Ears were Mormon. Of the 33 percent who supported the monument, 21 percent were Mormon. Twenty-nine percent of the 26 percent who were unsure were Mormon.

 

The Pew Charitable Trust poll conducted in July 2016 polled 600 registered Utah voters with an oversample of 100 in select counties in southeastern Utah. It had a margin of error of +/- 3.94 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. The poll was conducted by Benenson Strategy Group and Public Opinion Strategies (same as the Creation Justice Ministries poll and Colorado College poll). Benenson Strategy Group’s website states that “Benenson Strategy Group is a blend of researchers, problem framers, message developers, and communication strategists. We come from the worlds of journalism, politics, advertising, marketing, consulting, research and the social sciences. Our curiosity, passion and integrity means we never stop digging in our relentless pursuit of the right answer.” Their clients include corporate (Toyota, Uber, Intel, McDonalds, NFL, NBC, ESPN), political (mostly democratic) and institutional (ACLU, Planned Parenthood, SEIU, Emily’s List, AARP).

The poll is titled “Utah: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Survey” but includes many questions related to Bears Ears, too, such as “Do you support or oppose the idea to make Bears Ears in Utah a protected national monument?” Fifty-three percent expressed support and 41 percent expressed opposition.

The poll presents a series of statements (four) as to why people support the naming of Bears Ears. When asked again after hearing the statements whether they support the naming of Bears Ears, 61 percent of those questioned expressed support and 31 percent expressed opposition. Then they were read an equal number of reasons (four) to oppose the naming of Bears Ears. They were then asked if they support the naming and the results were 49 percent to 48 percent, for and against. Of course, we don’t know what the results would have been had the “anti” questions been asked before the “pro” questions. However, after hearing both sets of questions, those polled were asked again about their support for a new national monument and 55 percent expressed support versus 41 percent against. So support waned a bit but was still strong. I personally found it interesting and perhaps useful to those taking the poll to hear opinions on both sides of the issue if only to help increase their knowledge.

Those 35–44 years old made up the largest age group in the Pew poll, but ages ranged from 18 to over 80. Seventeen percent were democrats, 40 percent were republican, and 43 percent were independent. By far the majority had college degrees, including masters, Ph.D. and law degrees. Fifty-six percent were urban and 42 percent were small town or rural. Given that rural counties make up a smaller percentage of Utah’s population than 42 percent, it seems they got a fair shake in this poll. Even with this rural influence, as noted earlier 53 percent of respondents reported supporting the Bears Ears.

One interesting fact revealed in the Pew poll which was news to me is that Utah’s political leaders in the past initially opposed the protection of Zion National Park, Capital Reef National Park, and Arches National Park.

 

Not long after the Pew poll was published, the Utah Policy poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates during July 18 through Aug. 4 was published in August. It revealed greater support (35 percent) for the Public Lands Initiative (PLI) sponsored by Utah’s U.S. Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz. The PLI is a plan that is in direct opposition to Obama’s Bears Ears proclamation. The poll revealed that 19 percent supported Obama declaring the 1.9 million acre Bears Ears. Twenty-nine percent of those surveyed wanted nothing done with the region beyond its public land status at that time. The poll of 858 adult Utahns has a margin of error of +/- 3.34 percent.

Dan Jones & Associates is a Utah-based polling firm. The poll done by them for Utah Policy is the only poll of the five done by a Utah-based company. They have deep ties to Utah businesses. This does not mean necessarily that their polls will be biased, but when one looks at their clients — which include Rocky Mountain Power and Questar (now Dominion Energy), two companies that have great interest in Utah’s energy future on public lands — it does raise questions, at least for me. From Dan Jones & Associates’ website: “Dan Jones & Associates serves numerous federal, state and local government agencies, political candidates, and some of the largest organizations in the region…” So, not only does the group have close ties with state businesses but they also seem to have close associations with state and local governments — entities that may have interest in seeing Bears Ears reduced.

I’ve contacted Dan Jones & Associates twice and Utah Policy once to get a copy of the poll so I can understand how their questions and results compare to those offered by the other polls. I have not heard back from Dan Jones & Associates and was told by Utah Policy that someone would get back to me, but I have yet to hear.

 

The most recent poll by Colorado College’s Conservation of the West Poll was published just last month, January 2018. The poll followed President Trump’s reduction of Bears Ears and was conducted in conjunction with Public Opinion Strategies (same group that did the Creation Justice Ministries poll and the Pew poll) and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates. The poll was conducted from December 2017 to January 2018 and involved eight Western states: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Four hundred were polled per state, 3,200 total. It has a margins of error +4.9 percent per state and +2.65 percent effective overall sample.

The poll covered public lands generally, but regarding Utah’s national monuments including Bears Ears, poll voters were given the question: “Thinking specifically about two national monuments in Utah — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante, which contain fossils, petroglyphs, cliff dwellings and wildlife habitat — President Trump announced in December that the Administration would remove existing national monument protections and reduce the size of the lands conserved as national monuments by approximately two million acres.” Sixty-six percent of all respondent thought it a bad idea to reduce the size and protections that national monuments provide. In Utah, 49 percent opposed the reduction, and 46 percent supported it.

 

It’s interesting to note that Department of the Interior Secretary Zinke’s own state of Montana opposed the national monument reduction 61 percent to 30 percent. All other participating Western states strongly opposed the national monument reduction — even Nevada (73 percent to 22 percent), which has the most public lands of any U.S. state. Future reductions of national monuments in the U.S. were rejected 69 percent to 23 percent by six of the eight states when questioned, including Utah’s 56 percent to 35 percent opposition to future national monument reductions.

All states polled that support national monuments and don’t want changes also have significant amounts of public lands ranging from a low of about 29 percent in Montana and New Mexico to a high of 81 percent in Nevada. Politically conservative Idaho with 61 percent public lands supports national monuments and their futures 68 percent to 26 percent. So Utah with its 63 percent of public lands is not special in that regard yet its 56 percent support of national monuments lags even conservative Idaho’s. Perhaps Utah’s Mormon history with the federal government and the 2.65 million Mormons in Utah versus 445,000 in Idaho help to explain that difference, although in some polls Mormon support for Bears Ears was fairly high.

 

Looking into the background of the groups that conducted the polls proved to be interesting. Creation Justice Ministries’ website states this as their mission: “Creation Justice Ministries educates, equips and mobilizes Christian communions/denominations, congregations and individuals to protect, restore, and rightly share God’s Creation.  Based on the priorities of its members, with a particular concern for the vulnerable and marginalized, Creation Justice Ministries provides collaborative opportunities to build ecumenical community, guides people of faith and faith communities towards eco-justice transformations, and raises a collective witness in the public arena echoing Christ’s call for just relationships among all of Creation.”

Creation Justice Ministries’ board of directors includes 22 members from a variety of religious denominations, and they have brought together a wide array of groups focused on a “common mission to care for God’s creation.” The organization is headquartered in Washington, D.C.

The Hinckley/Tribune poll partnered two entities. The Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah touts itself as: “One of the first of its kind in the nation, the non-partisan Hinckley institute was founded with the mission to engage students in governmental, civic, and political processes, promote a better understanding and appreciation of politics, and train ethical and visionary students for public service. A significant number of local and national leaders are former Hinckley Institute students, including: Karl Rove, Utah Senator Pat Jones, and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.” (Pat Jones is married to Dan Jones of Dan Jones & Associates.) The Tribune has been in existence since 1871 and according to their website: “The Tribune is Utah’s independent voice. Building on a legacy of courageous, watchdog journalism, we strive to tell stories that are interesting, important and inclusive. Dedicated to fairness and accuracy, we aim to engage and empower you — our readers.”

Pew Charitable Trusts’ website reveals the following mission and values statement: “The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. We are an independent nonprofit organization — the sole beneficiary of seven individual trusts established between 1948 and 1979 by two sons and two daughters of Sun Oil Company founder Joseph N. Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and invigorate civic life.” With a 14-member board of directors, they are headquartered in Philadelphia.

Utah Policy is run by LaVarr Webb, a Republican political consultant and lobbyist. He served as policy deputy to Governor Mike Leavitt and was managing editor at the Deseret News. The From the Utah Policy website, “The information we publish, and the services we offer, are designed to help policymakers accomplish their objectives — to be more effective in providing leadership and vision, campaigning, lobbying, building coalitions, moving policy initiatives through a city council or the legislature, dealing with the personal challenges of being in the public spotlight, developing priorities and winning support for them, understanding issues, dealing effectively with the news media, and communicating effectively by delivering the right messages to the right audiences.”

Colorado College — located in Colorado Springs, Colorado — desires to “provide the finest liberal arts education in the country.” Through their programs they “offer unparalleled access to the outdoors, and CC students are no strangers to the adventurous spirit that flourishes here in the Rocky Mountain West. This attitude is something that is instilled into everything we do here. Curiosity is the driver and ingenuity is the outcome.”

 

So for those who jumped from the beginning to end avoiding all the gory details, what did I learn from these five polls? I learned a lot but still have many questions. The four polls I reviewed were all different in how they were structured and how much detail they provided. Of course, we don’t know much about the Utah Policy/Dan Jones & Associates poll, which interestingly showed the least support for Bears Ears (19 percent). Perhaps that’s why I was never able to get a copy of the poll to actually look into the details. Maybe they don’t want the details known.

The poll that had the next lowest support for Bears Ears (33 percent) — the Hinckley/Tribune poll — had a lot of data but not much to back up the why. The poll covered a lot of people (1,500), but the lack of detail left me with many unanswered questions. Some of the other polls sought to determine if those surveyed actually had knowledge about the Bears Ears issue and their general interest in and support of public lands, but this poll did not.

The Creation Justice Ministries poll, which showed the greatest level of support for Bears Ears (71 percent) was conducted in May 2016 very early in the political process leading up to President Obama’s proclamation in December 2016. Perhaps the political maneuvering that occurred over the following year took a toll on that support. Because 68 percent of the respondents revealed they had seen little or no information relating to Bears Ears, there did seem to be some confusion about what can or cannot be done in a national monument, but the questions asked revealed strong support for public lands generally.

The most recent poll by Colorado College is extensive and well worth reviewing by readers who might be interested in the public land issue generally since the poll covered much more than just the Bears Ears issue. The fact that this most recent poll (January 2018) still shows strong support for Bears Ears (49 percent) in Utah is encouraging but down from early 2016 polls (71 percent and 53 percent). It is, however, in keeping with the 47 percent who responded favorably to this question in the poll: “Do you generally approve or disapprove of the job President Trump and his administration are doing in handling issues related to our land, water and wildlife?” Given that 48 percent of the respondents were Republican, it makes some sense.

We still don’t know where the Bears Ears issue will go. I’ve tried to present relevant information from the four polls reviewed, but there is much more which could have been included. A new hearing was held Jan. 30 by the House of Representatives Federal Lands Subcommittee to address Congressman Curtis’ H.R. 4532 legislation. The hearing included many more tribal members than the previous hearing, which included only one! So that’s some progress. I encourage readers to listen to the hearing and not just rely on political opinions on this issue. These hearings can reveal a lot.

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Originally from New Mexico, Lisa taught elementary school for several years in Texas after graduating from the University of Texas at El Paso before moving to Anchorage, Alaska, where she lived for 30 years and worked in the oil industry for 20 years. She has lived in Ivins for 17 years. In 2006, Lisa became involved with Citizens for Dixie’s Future (now Conserve Southwest Utah) and served as a board member from 2006 to 2010. Lisa wrote for The Spectrum’s Writers Group from 2010 until it was disbanded in 2015. Her writing focuses mainly on conservation issues to help raise the level of awareness in southern Utah. She and her companion Paul Van Dam, former Utah Attorney General, have been deeply involved in the Lake Powell Pipeline issue since 2008. Lisa also serves on the Ivins Sensitive Lands Committee and has been a member since 2008. She currently serves as an advisor to CSU. She maintains a Southern Utah Issues Facebook page

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