SALT LAKE CITY — A new survey of Utah candidates for governor shows only incumbent Gov. Gary Herbert believes the state's quality of life is much better than it was five years ago.

The Utah Foundation polled nine of the 10 candidates who have filed for governor and found that most of them, including the lone Democrat in the race, Peter Cooke, and Republican tea party activist David Kirkham, rated the quality of life somewhat worse than five years ago.

Herbert's other chief challengers for the GOP nomination, Morgan Philpot and Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, both said Utah's quality of life was about the same as it was five years ago. Constitution Party candidate Kirk Pearson is the only gubernatorial candidate to say it was much worse.

The foundation report noted that the governor's highest-possible rating comes as no surprise.

"This is consistent with the notion that incumbents focus on their accomplishments and other positive events that occurred during their tenure; in so doing, they hope to raise their chances of reelection," the report stated.

The foundation asked the same question of Utahns as part of its 2012 Utah Priorities Survey, intended to identify which issues are most important this gubernatorial election year. This is the first year gubernatorial candidates have also been surveyed.

Only 3 percent agreed with the governor that the state's quality of life was much better than five years ago, while 15 percent said it was somewhat better, a slight improvement since the last poll in 2010.

Thirty-nine percent of Utahns believe the quality of life is much or somewhat worse, compared to 45 percent since the most recent governor's race two years ago. Most, 41 percent, agreed it was about the same.

On a scale of one to five, Utahns rated only three issues — jobs and economy, K-12 education and energy — above a score of 4, with 5 being very concerned. The same three issues were also the top three of GOP voters.

Democratic voters, however, rated seven issues above a 4 — environmental issues, partisan politics, health care, jobs and the economy, K-12 education, higher education and poverty.

The GOP candidates, the report found, also were very concerned with states' rights and access to public lands even though the issues were of much lower importance to Republican voters.

However, the top priorities of the Democratic candidate, Cooke, were close to those identified by the Democrats surveyed. Cooke, who served as a major general in the U.S. Army, added "saving Hill Air Force Base" to his list of key issues.

Information about the report and the Utah Priorities Project is available at utahpriorities.net.

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