Nebraska voters are inundated with ads, street signs and text messages from political candidates.
Much of the messaging, especially among this year’s gubernatorial candidates, has focused on topics such as illegal border crossings or critical race theory.
But other subjects, and those that affect closer to home, are at the heart of the concerns of Nebraska voters.
Nebraskanians who responded to a Lee Enterprises survey said they care most about attracting and retaining workers, affordable housing and school funding.
The survey, which was conducted online from late February to mid-March, asked participants to rate a dozen topics on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most important. Nearly 900 people responded.
Other important issues were slowing the loss of nursing homes and hospitals in small communities and addressing prison overcrowding or criminal justice reform.
Rankings differed by region, albeit slightly. In responses from the Omaha area, prison overcrowding and criminal justice rank in the top three. Meanwhile, school funding topped the priority list for residents of Lincoln and southeastern Nebraska, with climate change also higher.
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Omaha’s Jeri Lundblad said affordable housing and the loss of retirement homes in small towns are important to her. She said some of the topics she hears from contestants are like “dog whistles.” Instead, the 68-year-old wants to hear from the contestants about issues that affect her and her community.
“I find that these questions that are general topics are nowhere specific enough to help,” said Lundblad, a registered Democrat.
Saving nursing homes in rural communities is important, she said, because many older people in these places have nowhere to go. On prison overcrowding, she said the problem will not be solved by building more facilities if people coming out of prison have not received proper training or rehabilitation.
Some issues are related, Lundblad said. If you want to attract and retain workers, she said, you should be able to provide them with affordable housing options.
Many political candidates try to appeal to their voter base by addressing burning issues, said John Hibbing, professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Meanwhile, what voters actually like could vary.
Real-life issues, such as the ones the Legislature has tackled, are ones that affect Nebraskas daily, Hibbing said. Hearing candidates talk more about these issues, he said, would be better than what’s in campaign ads.
Hibbing said he was surprised to see property taxes consistently ranked low in the survey. Overall and among Omaha respondents, property taxes came in 8th out of 12. In Lincoln, property taxes were 10th on the list.
It makes sense, he said, that attracting and retaining workers should be a priority. It could be linked to fears of “brain drain” and the loss of inhabitants by the state, he said.
“Getting jobs was the problem,” Hibbing said. “Now that gets people into the job.”
Lincoln’s Lisa Lee said she views most items in the investigation as priorities for the state, whether or not they directly affect her.
Lee said the No. 1 problem is a shortage of workers. Having more people to fill jobs would boost the economy and state revenue, she said.
Other priorities for Lee, a 60-year-old Republican, are climate change and prison reform. Tackling the climate is complicated, she says, but she believes there are solutions. As for prison reform, Lee said it needs to be talked about, but it needs more than just adding beds.
Lee said it was concerning to see top Republican gubernatorial candidates “worried more about a border issue.” Although she thinks it’s a problem, the best course of action from Nebraska’s perspective would be for members of Congress to act on reform.
Learn about the candidates’ positions on the issues before voting in the April 6 primary. Voters will narrow the field of 12 candidates for Li…
Learn about the candidates’ positions on the issues before you vote in the May 4 general election.
Learn about the candidates’ positions on the issues before you vote. Two will be elected in the May 4 general election.