The Economy Security Project (ESP), a two-year fund launched in December 2016 to support investigation of basic income in the United States, has published the results of a new survey of Alaskans’ attitudes towards the state’s Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD).


The Permanent Fund Dividend

In 1976, the Alaska State Constitution created a permanent fund in which the state must invest at least 25% of its oil revenues, enabling wealth generated from the sale of a nonrenewable resource to continue to benefit future generations of Alaskans. The PFD, created in 1982, distributes a portion of the fund’s earnings as a dividend paid annually to all Alaskans.

Disbursed in equal amount to all adults and children who have lived in the state for more than a year (and intend to remain indefinitely), the PFD is widely regarded as one of the nearest “real world” examples of a basic income. Although its amount is variable, and too small to guarantee even a poverty-level existence, the PFD is universal, unconditional, and paid in cash at regular intervals, entailing that it does indeed satisfy BIEN’s definition of a basic income.

The PFD reached a peak amount of $2,072 per resident in 2015, but fell to $1,022 in 2016 after Governor Bill Walker used a line-item veto to cut the funds allocated to the PFD by the Alaska Legislature by more than half–a controversial decision that provoked a lawsuit from State Senator Bill Wielechowski, seeking to restore the full amount of the 2016 PFD approved by the legislature. Without Walker’s veto, the amount of 2016 PFD would have been $2,052.

At the time of this writing, Wielechowski’s lawsuit is being considered by the Supreme Court of Alaska, having been dismissed by a Superior Court judge in November of last year. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on June 20, but its final decision is likely to take months.

Meanwhile, Governor Walker recently signed the state budget for 2017, without exercising any line item vetoes this year. According to KTOO News, the budget includes $760 million for the PFD, which will amount to about $1,100 per Alaskan.


Popular Opinion Survey

Earlier in the year, ESP commissioned a telephone survey 1,004 Alaskan voters, carried out by the market research firm Harstad Strategic Research. According to ESP, the new survey is the “most comprehensive review of public attitudes about the PFD since 1984.”

Respondents answered a variety of questions concerning their attitudes toward the Permanent Fund and Dividend. Asked how much of a difference the PFD has made in their lives “over the past five years or so,” 40% replied that the dividends have made a “great deal” or “quite a bit” of difference, with 28% replying that the dividends have made “only some” or “just a little” difference, and only 8% saying that the dividends have made no difference. Women were more likely than men to say that the PFD has made “great deal” or “quite a bit” of difference (47% versus 33%), and 70% of those who described their economic circumstances as “barely surviving” stated that the PFD had this degree of impact.

While 87% of respondents agreed with the statement, “How people spent their Permanent Fund checks should not determine whether or not the dividend program continues,” respondents meanwhile do not believe that Alaskans use their annual PFD checks frivolously: 85% of agreed that “Many people spend a large part of their Permanent Fund dividends on basic needs,” and 79% agreed that “The Permanent Fund dividend checks are an important source of income for people in my community.” A comparatively small number, though a sizeable minority (43%), agreed with the statement “Many people have wasted a large part of their Permanent Fund checks on such things as liquor or drugs.” Asked about their own spending behavior, 27% replied that they save all or most of the payments, while 30% say that they use the PFD to pay off credit cards or other debt.  

Respondents also view the universality of the PFD favorably: 72% support the fact that “everyone who is basically a full-time resident of Alaska” receives the PFD, and 84% agree that “As owners of the Alaska Permanent Fund, Alaska residents are entitled to an equal share of the earnings of the Fund.” Interestingly, though, only 50% favor the distribution of the PFD to “millionaires and multi-millionaires living in Alaska,” suggesting that framing effects may influence respondents’ expressed attitudes towards universality.

The survey also suggests that–in an apparently pronounced change of opinion since the 1984 survey–a majority of Alaskans would prefer the institution of a state income tax over the termination of the PFD if it became necessary for the state to adopt one of these measures to raise money for government services. The preference for keeping the PFD was strongest among those with annual household incomes under $50,000 (72%) and those who described their situation as “barely surviving” (82%). Even those respondents with household incomes over $100,000 tended to prefer preserving the PFD to avoiding income taxes (58%).

Many other related questions were also included in the survey. For more details and graphical displays, see the links in “more information” below.


More Information

Economic Security Project, “Alaska PFD Phone Survey: Executive Summary,” June 22, 2017. Official Executive Summary of the survey’s findings, prepared by Harstad Strategic Research.

Supplemental materials from Harstad Strategic Research:

Taylor Jo Isenberg, “What a New Survey from Alaska Can Teach Us about Public Support for Basic Income,” Medium, June 28, 2017. Blog post summarizing of survey results, with background about the PFD.

Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 U.S. Pacific Command