Pocatello is a large city for Idaho standards at a population of 50,000, so what are its political and societal leanings? Is it more liberal like Boise or Moscow? Or is it more conservative like much of the state?
Pocatello is not a very liberal city. However, in recent years, there has been an uptick in liberal leanings that differs from the city’s regular conservative inclinations.
Read on for more information about the ways Pocatello is and isn’t a liberal city.
Lack Of Emphasis On Diversity
Pocatello has been behind when it comes to engaging with minority communities within the city. Although the city is predominantly white, there is still a large Hispanic community, as well as a Native American community due to the adjacent Fort Hall reservation.
Idaho State University contributes to diversity programs and events, such as hosting pow-wows and cultural exchanges. Outside of the university, though, Pocatello’s local government does little to build a diversity-friendly place.
In fact, many non-white residents say they have experienced or know someone who has experienced racism or discrimination in the city. There has been little to no proactive effort on the government’s part for inclusivity. The only time they step in is when a racial or discriminatory incident has made headlines or enough Pocatello citizens voice their concerns.
The difficulty to be more diverse may stem from Poky’s widespread city layout. It can be hard to engage with residents of different ethnicities or backgrounds when many people live in clustered neighborhoods with space in between each other. Because the town itself isn’t together, the people don’t feel pressured to be together as well.
High School Mascot Change
In 2019, the Shoshone-Bannock tribes requested that all Idaho schools change any offensive mascot names, including Pocatello High School’s mascot, which has historically been the “Indians.”
The Pocatello mascot has sparked local controversy in recent years, so when the tribes officially asked for the change, the school board took it under consideration. The debate on whether or not to change the mascot lasted nearly an entire year, which was too long for some.
Despite a large amount of dissent from non-Native Pocatello residents, the school board voted to replace “Indians” with “Thunder” by June 1, 2021.
Even though the former mascot had a track record for playing into offensive Native American stereotypes, there was a fair amount of outrage. Citizens threatened to recall three school board trustees if they didn’t resign because they decided to replace the mascot.
This negative reaction is a glimpse of where a percentage of Poky residents stand on issues beyond a simple mascot change.
On the other hand, many citizens in and surrounding the city applauded the change and thanked the school board for being progressive about the request, including both young and old Pocatello High School graduates. They took no issue with the replacement because their high school would always be their high school, and the memories would stay the same no matter the mascot.
Enough of these supportive residents have also made an impact on Pocatello’s liberal leanings beyond the mascot.
During a meeting about what will replace the Indian’s mascot, board member and Poky High graduate Jackie Cranor said, “Sometimes we have to deal with controversial issues. Sometimes we need to make a decision that’s not popular–but it’s the right one.”
College Town’s Influence
Pocatello is home to ISU, a small college with over 12,000 students. Because ISU is situated in downtown Pocatello, you’ll see more inclusivity in the downtown area and in the college itself. Diversity and acceptance are larger community themes the closer you are to the university.
ISU has friendly relations with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, and they work together to ensure that Native students can pursue higher learning with fewer obstacles in their path. As part of this, ISU has reduced tuition fees for students from the Shoshone-Bannock, Nez Perce, Shoshone-Paiute, Kootenai, and Coeur d’Alene tribes.
The college also has a Shoshoni language program to introduce both Native and non-Native students to the tribe’s culture. The courses extend to Shoshoni parental teachings, beliefs, customs, dances, music, and health issues.
Overall, ISU attempts to teach its students about diversity, especially with historic Native American lands right on its back porch.
The university’s Department of Counseling also received the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling Conference Award in 2018, which shows their commitment to creating an inclusive college environment for LGBTQIA+ students.
Some students who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community on the ISU campus say that while they feel accepted on campus, Pocatello as a whole can be discriminatory or dismissive toward them. This clash sets the town in both a positive or negative light, depending on whom you interact with and where.
The college had serious issues with anti-Muslim acts of vandalism, burglaries, and propaganda a few years ago. This damaged the school’s reputation and soured ties between its large Muslim student population, resulting in a major economic loss when many Muslim students had left out of fear or refusal to be in a discriminatory environment.
Now, some students wary of underlying prejudices from the student body that the school ignores or is unaware of until it is too late.
Despite this, other students know that these acts didn’t truly reflect the student body and that ISU aims to be diverse and inclusive toward all of its students, regardless of race, religion, or orientation. The university’s efforts have bled into Pocatello’s larger community in recent years, so the city will likely see continued liberal growth.
2021 Presidential Election
The 2021 Presidential Election was hotly contested, and it was no different in Bannock County, where Pocatello, the smaller town Chubbuck, and part of the Fort Hall reservation reside. Pocatello, however, takes up most of the county’s population numbers.
As a bit of history, the last time Bannock County voted for a Democratic president was Lyndon B. Johnson, who ran for president in 1964. Although the degree to which a Republican president won in the county has varied, it did not change in the 2021 election.
Bannock County had a total of 23,331 votes for Donald J. Trump and a total of 14,682 votes for Joe Biden. However, it is worth noting that the margin between these candidate votes is slimmer than it was in other Idaho counties. Pocatello and the surrounding areas in Bannock County are more likely to support liberal candidates and ideas.
The same pattern continued in the senate race between Paulette Jordan (D) and Jim Risch (R). Jordan, a member of the Coeur d’Alene tribe, had widespread support in Bannock County. Even though Risch ultimately retained his senate position, Jordan posed a threat that not many Democratic candidates were able to do in the past thanks to election results like in Bannock County.
Compared to the rest of Idaho, which is a deeply red state in the country, Pocatello isn’t that bad in terms of one-sided conservative beliefs. If the election results are anything to go by, expect to see Poky’s liberal trend increase in both presidential, state, and local politics, especially as it expands into a larger city over the next few years.
Although Idaho isn’t expected to change from red to blue anytime soon, Pocatello may even contribute to flipping Bannock County blue.
What The Locals Say
With all the pros and cons talked about in this article, it’s time to let the locals speak. Both old and new residents of various ages and backgrounds gave their thoughts and opinions on how they feel about whether or not Pocatello is a liberal city.
Younger Poky citizens still feel as though the city will remain conservative with little to no change in its nature. However, many agree that they can still find safe circles among friends and family members who believe the same or similar as they do.
It helps that despite Pocatello’s large percentage of white residents, there are still thriving non-white individuals who find support with others. Together, they push for more progressive projects and funding in the city council and county affairs.
Young adults who have grown up in Pocatello and then attended ISU see an overlap of the town’s and college’s different ideals. At times, it is very much the same being on campus, but other times, the college’s liberal perspective surprises them–and makes many proud to be an ISU Bengal.
Older residents think that while not much has drastically changed in terms of Poky’s ideologies, they have seen and continue to see more liberal trends in the city. But because this doesn’t interfere with their daily lives, older residents don’t have much of a problem with it.
A few laughed off the thought of Poky ever becoming a true liberal town and not just a town with liberal pockets and people among the more conservative population. To them, it’s just a matter of who you’re friends and family are within Pocatello, where you work, if you’re a college student or not, your religious affiliation, and your age.
The local opinions reflect Pocatello’s liberal leanings: somewhere in the middle.
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