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Do Illinois residents really want to leave the state? Poll gives insight

grubaugh new picBy DENNIS GRUBAUGH
    The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale recently asked registered voters one of the most germane questions in a very tumultuous year in Illinois:
    “If you had the opportunity, would you like to move to another state, or would you rather remain in your current state?”
    While the question could be asked in a dozen ways, it gets to the heart of a debate that has bugged our state for years. That being, the proposition that most people are wanting to leave us.
    The poll puts the subject in a clearer light: A lot of people do want to leave but for a lot of reasons unconnected to the state’s politics.
    Let me say first, any poll conducted by an institute created by Paul Simon has to be looked upon with some credibility. Paul was an old-school politician, a newspaperman-turned-U.S. senator who put people’s needs before his own. During a short period of our history he briefly aspired to the presidency. Oh, would someone of his character be welcomed in 2016! Alas, he died in 2003.
    His institute began in 1997 with the mission of gathering and disseminating information that could be of use in forming public policy. This poll caught my attention because it asked “why” people consider leaving the state.
    The poll of 1,000 people statewide found that 47 percent (472 people) say they would like to move while 51 percent (512) prefer to remain. Just under 2 percent (16 people) indicated they didn’t know what they wanted to do.  
    Of course, wanting to move and moving are two different things. Nearly 80 percent surveyed said it was unlikely they would move in the coming year; the rest qualified it as extremely likely, somewhat likely or likely.
    Of the 20 percent who do want to leave, when you drill down as to why, the reasons are across the board. Taxes (27 percent) and weather (16 percent) are clear choices. But after that, it’s a mix of things that affect most people — family, jobs, housing, education, retirement. Not many people blame government in general.
    I’m betting if a similar survey were taken in most states, you’d get similar results. No one likes taxes and, unless you live in Hawaii, California and Florida, everyone complains about the weather.
    Not surprisingly, younger people want to leave most. Fifty-seven percent of millennials (under 35) feel that way as do 58 percent of those between 35 and 50. However, only 29 percent of adults over age 66 are so inclined.
    Those restless youngsters.
    One can hardly blame people for leaving. The poll found a shameful 84 percent of Illinois voters said the state was headed in the wrong direction, while only 10 percent said it was on the right track. That’s a clear acknowledgment of the fumbling ways of our governor and the Legislature, whose inability to find compromise only strengthens the state’s laughingstock reputation.
    However, if you’re going to leave Illinois, exactly where are you going? The same recent poll said 59 percent of those surveyed said the country in general is headed the wrong direction.
    And how’s this for a mixed message: Most people (52 percent) said the quality of life in their area ranges from excellent to good, but 43 percent feel their local area is moving the wrong way.
    So, what is the takeaway? People say they want to move but aren’t following through. They are tired of politics, but more oppressed by everyday life. They like what they have in their hometown, but the younger they are the more disenchanted they seem.
    In other words, some people are just never happy. And, I’m pretty sure, it’s been that way since statehood.
    Dennis Grubaugh is editor and partner of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at or (618) 977-6865.

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