“Great State of Ada” Analysis

How people think about Ada County’s influence on Idaho

Cameron Crow
Nov 8, 2018 · 15 min read

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“The Great State of Ada”

Maybe you’ve heard someone talk about “the Great State of Ada” before, or maybe you haven’t, but it’s used to describe perceived imbalances between Ada County Idahoans and the rest of the state. It’s about urban vs. rural interests and representation in state governing bodies. But, it’s also about perceived self-importance — some think Ada County residents can be snobby or look down on the rest of the state. We wanted to know what everybody thinks about this.

Here are our questions and results, and below’s what I found most interesting.

First, our sample’s demographics

(When you look at surveys, it’s always a good idea to peak at that types of people that responded. Since we track how each person answers questions, we’re able to pull in responses from previous surveys for this. If some subscribers didn’t take the survey where we collected a demographic, they’re denoted by a “?” in the charts.)

In this survey, we got A LOT of responses from new people, which is GREAT, but it also means we don’t have any answer history to pull in for them — you can see that in the gray bars. That’s okay — I think the most important demographic is here, county.

We’ll be focusing on segmentation using that, and different groupings of counties. One grouping will compare “Ada” with “Not Ada,” and the other will put them into districts (or regions), and I’m using the state of Idaho’s definitions for that.

Who’s heard it?

First off, I was curious to know how many people have actually heard “the Great State of Ada” expression before. Believe it or not, I just heard about it over the last year, and I grew up here.

From the overall results, you can see that across all the respondents, 55% had heard of it. That’s a bit more than I expected, because there wasn’t a ton that I could find when googling for it.

About the same amount of people have heard of it inside and outside Ada County

Next, let’s break it down by county groups. I was curious if this is something that people outside Ada County hear more often. My guess was that they do — it’s kind of a “put down” expression about Ada County, so I’d guess it’s more common to say “at” Ada, and not “in” Ada (if that makes sense). It turns out that the rates are about the same.

The expression might be more common in certain districts

How about we break things down by district now. I was wondering if this is more commonly used in some regions of Idaho than others. It looks like it’s relatively stable across districts, but it may be more commonly heard in Eastern Idaho. We won’t put too much faith in the exact numbers of this though, since we’re not dealing with a huge sample size of Eastern Idaho points of view.

Concentrations of power?

People say yes — there’s a concentration of power in Ada County

Now that we know how many people have heard the expression, let’s get into the meat of its meaning. Basically, it expresses a feeling that Ada county has more influence or power over the rest of Idaho. Whether you’ve heard the expression or not, I asked essentially whether you think it’s true, and the answer was Yes. About 60% of people answered affirmatively. But let’s dig a little deeper on this.

Ada County respondents think there’s less of a concentration than others

I decided to look at the % of respondents from each district that said Yes, there is a power concentration in Ada county. It’s plain as day that our respondents outside of Ada county think this is true more often from those inside of Ada county. But we still had a pretty big group of Ada county residents claim that it’s true also.

What kinds of power?

Economic influence is the big one that people think Ada has over other parts of Idaho

Now, what kinds of power are we talking about? Tax dollars, politics, what? That was one of the next things we asked.

Respondents could choose all of the options or none, based on the type of power they think Ada county holds over the rest of Idaho. From an overall view, “Economically” was the most-selected option: “business and investment opportunities.” Interestingly enough, “Politically” was the least-selected, though that’s what I thought the expression implies the most. Let’s go deeper.

There’s a big mismatch on how much Fiscal (taxes) and Political influence Ada County has

Comparing Ada and “Not Ada” counties, we can see that the big difference is on “Fiscally” and “Politically.” Basically, outside Ada county, people chose each option almost equally. Inside Ada county, many fewer people chose the last two. How come?

My interpretation (and this is informed by many of the comments) is that there’s a pretty big divide across the state about who’s influencing who. Ada county people think that legislators from rural areas are keeping them from doing the things they want to do (like getting a local option tax for infrastructure), and they’re providing most of the tax revenue for the state. And outside Ada county, people think that Ada county gets all the resources. Everybody thinks the other side benefits more than they do. (Sounds like human nature!)

How concerned are people?

Overall, plenty of concerned people, but most not too much?

Alright, we know how many people think there’s a power concentration in Ada, and what types of power they think it is, but how concerned are people? My guess is that Ada County folks, whether they recognize having greater influence or not, would be just fine with it — they benefit, after all. Overall, the story is that there are lots of concerned people, but lots of unconcerned people. We need to slice it.

Ada’s not very concerned, but most everybody else is.

Bingo. Ada County folks are much less concerned than Idahoans outside Ada County. There do seem to be some Ada County residents that are pretty concerned about this though, to be fair.

Next, I wanted to look at this by district to see if certain areas of Idaho appear more concerned with Ada county’s influence than others.

The closer you live to Ada, the more okay with their influence you are?

From this angle, it looks like there’s almost a proximity effect — the further away from Ada County, the more concerned you are. Other Idahoans in the same region (Central) or nearby (Southwest) aren’t as bothered as Idahoans in the North and East. Makes sense to me — even if Ada County has more influence than them, they get to benefit more easily in some ways. They’re more likely to be driving the same roads or visiting Boise for instance.

How Ada County thinks about the rest of Idaho

But there’s more to this “Great State of Ada” concept than just influence on state resources and decisions. There’s also a cultural connotation to it — some might say that Ada County thinks they’re the “cool kids.” They’re in the capitol, after all, and there are many more “big city” amenities for people that live there.

Moreover, some might feel that Ada County residents are kind of snobbish and think Ada County is better than the rest of the state. I looked into that with two questions: one about how “in touch” they are with the rest of the state (do they care to know what’s going on), and the other about whether they “look down” on the rest of the state.

These two questions focused on how Ada county sees the rest of Idaho

From an overall view, most people said they don’t think Ada County is very in touch with the rest of the state. I think we can read that as them being perceived as self-focused and less concerned with what’s going on elsewhere. And, there was a lot of different points of view on “looking down.” More people said this doesn’t happen much, but we’re going to need to look closer to see if there are patterns to spot.

Ada County thinks it’s more “in touch” than others think they are

With the county view, it definitely looks like Ada County people think they’re more in touch with the state than people elsewhere, but not super in touch.

I think there could be some bias here to a degree — I bet people are likely to think they’re more informed than they are, and that other people are less informed than they actually are. So, let’s keep that in mind.

Ada County says they don’t look down on others. Others disagree.

And with the “look down” question, it’s the same thing — Ada County folks say they don’t look down on the rest of Idaho very often, and the rest of Idaho says they do. I’m actually pretty surprised that there weren’t more people reporting looking down from Ada County. I’ve lived there most of my life, and I’ve heard this point of view a lot.

How well is government handling this?

The average looks like slight disappointment

So, we’ve talked about influence, types, concerns, and perceptions, but we haven’t talked too much about the people that we elect to make the decisions about this sort of stuff — government. I asked how well people think governments balance the needs of urban and rural Idaho. As usual, there’s a wide range of answers, but it looks like the average is slightly negative on this. You know what we’re going to do next — segment!

Not Ada County people are less satisfied

By county groupings, it looks like “Not Ada” respondents are less happy with government choices than Ada County folks. But, there’s still a bunch of people from both groups that aren’t happy at all.

I think this might be a factor of everyone feeling that things aren’t fair, like we talked about earlier — rural Idahoans think they’re not getting as much as the urban Idahoans are getting. And the urbanites think that rural’s getting too much. I’m sure there are real improvements that can be made on this issue, but maybe we humans are always going to be relatively unhappy with the shares we’re given compared to other people’s?

That’s all for quantitative analysis. Now we’re going to shift gears to qualitative, and see what interesting comments came through.

Interesting Comments

Lots of interesting comments, as usual. I’ve highlighted several that I think are particularly thought-provoking or representative, and I’ve bolded key phrases to help you skim.

What gets too much attention?

The most-used words, sized by frequency

Ada county liberals are trying to turn our whole state into the freedom-less leftist hellhole they left in California. They demand we pay attention to only the leftist agenda and ignore or mock rural Idahoan concerns.

People pay too much attention to the ways we differ- nitpicking every slight difference of opinion to make us seem further apart then we really are.

People don’t pay too much attention! Politicians pay too much attention! Local leaders throughout the state live there and spend much time there. They eventually are influenced by their part time resident county.

The issues Ada County faces are not the issues the rest of the State faces, and even so, Ada County residents largely do not represent the same values as the rest of Idaho.

Ada county thinks it has the corner on progressive and moral imperatives. It ignores and makes fun of the lifestyles and struggles of citizens in rural counties.

Misperceptions about ignorant wackos in other parts of the state. There are some of those people for sure, but it’s not a huge amount.

The constant construction on Ada county roads. There’s other Highways in Idaho that need fixed once in a while.

I think that people pay too much attention to minor differences within the Treasure Valley. People are comparing the neighboring school district budgets and sidewalk widths amongst different parts of the Treasure Valley while across the rest of the state the school buildings are outdated and falling apart and pedestrian connectivity hasn’t even become a dream (besides older downtown areas). The only exception is the resort towns.

Actually rural legislators have outsize influence compared to population. Legislators even pass laws to keep cities, especially Boise, from taking actions like use of local option taxes, I recall they even reduced the size of ACHD when they thought it was too bike friendly. The population should be able to govern itself without legislative obstruction.

I think the perception of differences is greater than the actual difference. As an Ada County resident I worry about being singled out for traffic enforcement when I go to other parts of the state. I’m sure I’m just being paranoid about their resentment towards me (I hope).

The “Great State of Ada” expression. While Boise may have different goals for itself than other areas of the state, Ada County does not operate very differently than other counties. The commissioners still act as if this was a rural agricultural community and not one of the fastest growing areas in the nation. When people use this expression they’re using it to dig at the perceived liberalism of Boise residents. If anything, the “Great State of Ada” (i.e. Boise) has a disproportionately low share of the power and influence it should have, being one of the highest tax generating areas in the state, and can’t even govern within its own boundaries without the state legislature butting in and imposing their own will.

Keeping taxes low, even at the cost of denied services that result in long term hiked tax payer costs. It is somewhat disingenuous to suggest urban areas are self absorbed when rural areas restrict the ability for local taxation that would allow urban areas to meet critical infrastructure and social safety needs. If rural populations wish to not be held to Ada County standards, why not allow local option taxation to meet those needs while not taxing the rural areas who could otherwise direct their own spending or lack thereof. the reason, it seems is to be able to allow a small number or rural legislators the ability to dictate the self governance of the Ada County burgeoning population as part of the state as a whole. A growing population needs investments in infrastructure and social welfare programs to offset the damage and crime that often accompany massive population growth periods. It’s not fiscally responsible to ignore this trend and every Idahoan suffers (including the rural populations who move to Ada County) from a lack of this smart growth investment. Those same communities vastly benefit from the tax revenue and economic prosperity developed in Ada County. Also, the fact that the Feds pay us more in federal tax subsidies for the opportunity cost of not developing federal lands than we provide the Feds in tax. We are a welfare state in this regard. We must protect our public lands for future generations and every rural Idahoan directly benefits from our Federal Public Lands in ways too numerous to count, yet they seem to be the first to argue that we should revert federal lands to the state (and sell or lease them) or privatize them (which would diminish access to those same communities). In all ways, a narrow view of Idaho would overemphasize the negative impacts of one form of community (urban or rural) over the other without recognizing the inherent benefits that each population provides the other. Both aspects of Idaho are important for Idaho to be the unique and amazing state that Idaho is.

The majority of powerful elected officials come from rural parts of the state. People tend to think that Ada County can get its way, but that is not the case when it comes to local option taxes, or state appropriations.

We speak to what divides us but spend little time elevating what brings us together as Idahoans. Instead of reinforcing the divide, let’s speak to what we all want for the future of our state- like education for our children, affordable health care and protecting our quality of life so that future generations of Idahoans can live, work and raise their families here. These are shared values for folks in both rural and urban communities.

The population of Ada County doesn’t tell the whole story. Canyon County also is huge by Idaho standards and has considerable political power, more so than Ada County.

What doesn’t get enough attention?

The most-used words, sized by frequency

There are three Capitol Cities of Idaho. Boise, Spokane and Salt Lake City..

Freedom is what Idaho is known for. Lower taxes, better quality of living, more constitutional freedom. Let’s not let socialist ideas destroy what free markets and democracy have built. Idaho won’t stay great by changing what made it that way.

The excessive influence of the non-Ada agricultural interests and their hindrance to the growth of other Idaho industries.

The economic disparity in rural communities and access to services. I worked as a teacher in a rural district and was appalled at the lack of response by H&W to many child neglect claims. I was told by the community that there were not enough resources to properly serve such a large area.

Rural Idaho is wonderful, but under-appreciated and underserved. I’m worried about the future of the small town, rural living that I love. There are other places in the state that are growing extremely fast, facing big challenges as a result, and have a lot to offer besides Ada County. Income inequality, housing prices, and housing shortages are causing big challenges for people.

I think that if people in the Treasure Valley only notice the difference between Ada County and the rest of southern Idaho. Everyone ignores the panhandle completely. The reservation communities across the state deserve a lot more attention.

No one has noticed the state legislature actively works against Ada County and The City of Boise with their policy decisions: banning use of eminent domain for greenbelt, drafting the laws regarding local options taxes so that Boise citizens can’t vote for one, attempting to make design codes illegal til places like Ketchum and McCall pointed out this benefited their towns as well.

Local option taxes that could allow more local control, a more specified method of taxation that allows low tax burden in rural communities while increasing the tax burden in Ada County to meet critical needs that accompany a larger population density.

That Ada County folks play and recreate for example in Boise County, but do not contribute proportionately to the upkeep of our roads, infrastructure and emergency services. Also, they seem to think they are in the “wilderness” as soon as the pavement ends and have no respect for rural residents along those dirt roads, let alone private property. They seem to leave their trash behind wherever they go…They take their jet board and water toys up to our high mountain fishing lakes and have no respect for small fishing boats…

Just how vast the differences are (super progressive Ada, rural Cassia, religiously conservative Madison, and wealthy Blaine).

The total economic power of the four most populous counties nearly makes the entire state budget. Many of the small cities and counties actually receive redistributed funding from Ada County’s receipts. Without Ada, most of the economy of the state would die.

Education in rural districts is really hurting. Seems like we are always concerned about Boise Schools and West Ada, but then we leave many rural districts out in the cold. They have low pay so it’s hard to fill positions and dilapidated facilities. There needs to be a more-equitable distribution of education dollars.

I’ve lived nearly equal amounts of time in the three major regions of Idaho (eastern, northern and Boise), and there are stark cultural differences between these regions. They really are almost like three different states. I think that if we had easier travel between these regions (such as a bullet train), we would have better opportunities to stay connected and to understand each others’ needs.

That’s all folks!

If you want more analysis goodness, check out our other posts in the Boise and Idaho sections.

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(This still image is for the cover photo. Gifs don’t work for that…)

Make Idaho Better

Using surveys, public results and analysis, and stories to make Idaho voices heard and make a difference. Helping leaders find better solutions with innovative and affordable community engagement and market research.

Cameron Crow

Written by


Make Idaho Better

Using surveys, public results and analysis, and stories to make Idaho voices heard and make a difference. Helping leaders find better solutions with innovative and affordable community engagement and market research.

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