A majority of Nebraskans feel state government should invest more in the middle class, raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy to do so, a public opinion poll by the Holland Children's Institute found.
Nearly 6 in 10 Nebraskans surveyed said state leaders should find new revenue streams to balance the state budget and bolster support for mental health programs, K-12 public education and infrastructure.
They also believe the state should do more to adequately fund early childhood education, job training programs, Medicaid, employment benefits and higher education and other tools keeping access to the middle class open, according to the poll.
"Obviously, Nebraskans think balancing the state's budget is important, and it's something we have to do," said Hadley Richters, CEO of the Omaha nonprofit and nonpartisan Holland Children's Institute, which conducts research and analysis on public policies affecting children and families.
"But I think that consensus (on how to balance the state budget) will surprise a lot of people," Richters added, "especially in how consistent it is statewide, in urban and rural areas, and across the political spectrum."
Increasing taxes to balance the budget received broad support among Democrats (83 percent) as well as independents (53 percent), according to the survey results.
It also won majority support in each of Nebraska's three congressional districts, including 51 percent in the 3rd District, representing the largest geographic region of the state.
A quarter of the 600 randomly selected registered voters surveyed by phone in July, largely identifying themselves as Republicans, said Nebraska's elected leaders should continue to curb spending instead of raising taxes to balance the state budget, which is required by law.
Richters said while a majority of those polled said taxes should be raised to balance the state's budget and fund policies that benefit the middle class, respondents overwhelmingly believed they paid their fair share in taxes, or about their fair share.
Almost 60 percent of those surveyed believed big corporations pay less than their fair share of taxes, while 54 percent believe the wealthiest Nebraskans do not fairly contribute to the state's tax base.
Those feelings were also reflected in Nebraskans' perceptions about state government, Richters said.
While 55 percent of respondents are "broadly satisfied" with the overall direction of state government, including Gov. Pete Ricketts and the Legislature, the Holland Children's Institute poll said that "may be more a product of low expectations than real satisfaction."
Only 10 percent of those surveyed feel state government is "very focused" on their priorities, while 59 percent said the state's leaders are "somewhat focused."
But when asked an open-ended question about what voters believe most influences the decisions of state government, 70 percent of those surveyed offered a cynical reply like "money," Richters said.
Just one-fifth of those surveyed said elected leaders were motivated to help voters or their local communities, according to the poll.
"It's clear Nebraska's voters believe money, lobbyists and special interests have influence over state government," she added.
Richters said this year's survey was an effort to dig deeper into the disconnect found by a 2017 Holland Children's Institute poll that indicated Nebraskans did not feel the government was working to help them.
In the previous telephone poll, also of 600 randomly selected Nebraska voters, the institute found bipartisan support for health care and education investments, paid family leave and affordable child care, and other issues.
That poll, conducted by Myers Research, found that respondents did not believe the state was adequately investing in those areas, which they linked to build a vibrant middle class.
This year's poll was conducted by TargetSmart. Results were weighted by gender, age, political party and congressional district with a margin of error of 4 percent.
This story has been updated for clarity.