A corrections officer holds open an access gate at Menard Correctional Center in Chester on Tuesday, May 20, 2014.

CARBONDALE — Illinois voters support vigorous government action regarding two major issues on Illinois’ policy agenda — that is the conclusion of a recent statewide poll of 1,001 registered voters released by Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

Voters see bias in criminal justice system

A total of 55 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that “the criminal justice system is biased against black people.” There were 35 percent of voters who disagree.

Where respondents live had a large impact on their views. Sixty-three percent of Chicago residents strongly agreed or somewhat agreed; 60 percent of suburban Cook and the collar counties agreed or somewhat agreed; 42 percent of downstate residents agreed and 48 percent disagreed.

Partisanship, including political affiliation and race, also had a strong association with the responses. Seventy-three percent of Democrats and 29 percent of Republicans agreed, overall. Among white voters, 50 percent agreed while 40 percent disagreed. Among black voters, 79 percent agreed while 15 percent disagreed. Among Hispanics, 63 percent agreed while 29 percent disagreed.

“Clearly race, party and place of residence are driving forces in shaping the voters’ views on bias in the criminal justice system,” said John Jackson, a visiting professor at the institute and one of the directors of the poll. “It is obvious that many Illinois voters live in two different worlds when it comes to matters of race and contact with the criminal justice system.”

Voters favor removing barriers that make it hard for people to find jobs after incarceration

Respondents were asked to agree or disagree with the following: “The State of Illinois should remove barriers that make it more difficult for people who have been incarcerated to find jobs.” Overall, 76 percent of those responding agreed and only 15 percent disagreed.

Among Chicago voters, it was 80 percent to 10 percent who agreed. Suburban Chicago and collar counties voters agreed by a 77-16 percent margin. Downstate, 71 percent agreed and 17 percent disagreed.

There was also widespread agreement from political parties, with 84 percent Democrats and 83 percent Republicans in favor of the state removing barriers.

Race also was not a factor in this question. Seventy-six percent of white people, 77 percent of Hispanics and 83 percent of black voters agreed or strongly agreed.

Poll also shows dramatic call for change in corrections policies

The poll shows 73 percent of the state’s voters overall chose the option of “currently, we spend too much money on incarceration and not enough on alternatives such as education and treatment.”

The next most popular choice at 12 percent was “currently, the balance of spending between incarceration and alternative sentencing programs is about right.”

Only 8 percent chose the third option of “currently we spend too much money on alternative education and treatment programs and not enough on incarceration.”

Support to increase funding for education and treatment alternatives was statewide. Chicago voters were the most liberal and downstate voters were the most conservative, with the suburban voters in between, but the differences were small.

There were party differences with 85 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of Independents and 54 percent of Republicans believing more should be spent on alternatives to incarceration.

“It seems that if maybe not a clear consensus, a heavily majoritarian view has developed among Illinois voters that what we have been doing on corrections policy is not working and that more emphasis should be placed on alternative approaches such as more education and treatment programs,” institute director John Shaw said.

Poll also reflects importance of safe water supplies

The poll included three questions focused on the public’s perception of its water supplies.

The poll asked voters to weigh the following: “I personally worry about the pollution of drinking water.”

The public was almost evenly divided on this issue, with 48 percent saying they worried a great deal or a fair amount about pollution of drinking water. Exactly one half of those responding said they worried about their water supplies “only a little” or not at all.

“Those who worry about the pollution of their water may be reflecting the notoriety this matter got in the Flint, Michigan crisis of 2016,” said Kara Lawrence, a Howard Foundation Fellowship holder at the institute who is doing research on this issue. “The 50 percent who don’t worry much about water quality may show that state and local governments are generally doing a good job of ensuring that the demand for safe water is usually met.”

Majority rate their water supply as excellent or good

Sixty-nine percent rated their drinking water as excellent or good, 28 percent rated their supply as fair or poor. Only 3 percent don’t know how they rate the quality of their drinking water.

There were no large differences based on geographic location or party identification on this issue. However, there were racial differences, with 19 percent of African-Americans rating their water quality as poor, compared to 6 percent of whites and 13 percent of Hispanics.

Forty-seven percent of respondents overall said they trust state government to do what is right about water quality “always” or “most of the time;” 34 percent trust the government to do what is right only some of the time; and 15 percent said none of the time.

There were marginal regional differences, with Chicago voters being the most trusting and downstate voters the least trusting with suburban voters in between. There were no essential differences by party.

“These results show that on the matter of providing safe and dependable water supplies, Illinois voters are more positive about the job the state is doing than one might expect from the generally negative reviews one often finds Illinois government getting,” Jackson said.

Sample size, margin of error and methodology

The margin of error for the entire sample of 1,001 voters is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. This means that if we conducted the survey 100 times, in 95 of those instances, the population proportion would be within plus or minus the reported margin of error for each subsample.

For subsamples, the margin of error increases as the sample size goes down. The margin of error was not adjusted for design effects. Among self-identified primary election voters, the margin is plus or minus 6 percentage points in the 259-voter sample of Republicans, and 4.5 percentage points in the sample of 472 Democrats.

Live telephone interviews were conducted by Customer Research International of San Marcos, Texas using the random digit dialing method.

Potential interviewees were screened based on whether they were registered voters and with quotas based on area code and sex. The sample obtained 51 percent male and 49 percent female respondents.

The data was not weighted in any way.

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