More than 90 percent of Idahoans say they're satisfied with the quality of their lives and are optimistic about their future, and the majority wants state government to become even more conservative in the years to come.

But a new statewide poll conducted for the Idaho Centennial Commission shows the majority apparently wants a government that stays out of religious and spiritual issues while being active on others like education.People, generally the younger ones living in the areas of the state that are getting the most in-migration, are willing to pay higher taxes for more and higher-quality public services. But across-the-board, they opt for the less expensive alternatives in handling major issues like health care and crime.

They want a steady, stable life-style, sacrificing rapid economic growth for slow expansion even if it means fewer, but higher-paying, jobs and especially if it will protect the environment from serious threat.

"I think we now have a whole new definition of what conservative is," said Gary Lyman, who directed the survey. "Conservative in this state does not mean we are opposed to change. . . . We may be fiscally conservative, but we're progressive in broader policy areas like funding education better."

The telephone poll, conducted on a statistically random sample of 541 people between May 3 and May 18, is accurate within 4 percentage points. It was done by the Survey Research Center at Boise State University.

It is intended to provide something of a guide to policymakers on where Idahoans would like to see their state head as it enters its second century, John Franden of the Second Century Project said, and Lyman suggested that politicians should give serious thought to the survey's suggested revision of the definition of conservative.

While 52 percent want a more conservative state government, 70 percent favor public policymakers who are active, strong and focused on many issues.

Other apparently contradictory positions in the survey, he said, probably reflect the fact that there simply has not been a good public discussion of values in the state.

One of the most surprising findings of the poll, Lyman said, was that a third of the respondents said there was no need to improve social equity and racial tolerance in a state where an earlier study for the Human Rights Commission found a significant level of covert as well as overt racial and religious intolerance.

Fortunately, Lyman said, the vast majority wants a society exhibiting greater tolerance. They were much more intense in their desire for improvement than those who felt no need to change the status quo.

In a similar vein, 65 percent of those surveyed believed individual spirituality and religion should remain a private matter, and their feelings were much more intense then those of the 31 percent preferring a society that openly promotes and encourages spirituality and religion.

Lyman said more in-depth investigation would be needed to determine exactly what respondents intended in answering that question. But he speculated that respondents could well have considered the entire range of church-state issues from prayer in public schools to abortion.

The poll reinforced past public opinion surveys on the question of education. Seventy-five percent wanted to see a better-financed system of education; 78 percent said education should be more progressive than it is today. And 57 percent preferred schools that conform less to traditional values and roles and focused more on creativity and individual potential.

Better maintained, more up-to-date buildings, bridges, roads and parks were backed by 74 percent, and over half said they would rather have the best facilities even if it means fewer of them.

When it came to paying the bill, 47 percent supported tax increases to finance more, higher-quality public services while 38 percent opted for tax cuts even if they mean a lower level of service. Over 80 percent said promotion of healthy lifestyles over reliance on medical-care services is the way to handle the health, and 71 percent favored preventing criminal behavior by nurturing young children rather than incarcerating criminals.

Environmentally, the poll showed only limited difference in the strength of those preferring preservation of resources and those backing multiple use. But 58 percent said they wanted their environment left as natural and undisturbed as possible.

Sixty-three percent favored a slow-growing economy, and the number jumped to 88 percent when the potential of environmental threats from growth was injected into the equation.