Center for Community Studies at JCC releases results of 20th Annual Jefferson County Survey

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The Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College (JCC) released the findings of the 20th Annual Jefferson County Survey of the Community at the General Services Committee meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators on Tuesday, June 11, 2019.

The annual survey is an inventory of the attitudes, opinions, and behaviors of a representative sample of Jefferson County adult residents, with the interviews completed every year in the month of April. The primary goal of the survey is to collect data regarding quality of life issues of importance to local citizens. This study provides an annual “snapshot” of life in the county. Additionally, the analysis of the 20th Annual Survey data provides an information-rich “motion-picture” of changes in the lives of county residents over the past two decades when trends are investigated through comparing with earlier-year results.

Working under the training and supervision of the Center for Community Studies research staff, students at the College utilized a hybrid sampling design including 325 telephone interviews of residents on both cellular phones and residential landlines completed on the evenings of April 8-10, 2019. Two additional sampling modalities were employed in this study, including completion of 131 online surveys by county residents between April 10-25, 2019, and finally, an additional 125 intercept surveys completed at Fort Drum on April 15, 2019. The result is an overall sample size of 581 adult county residents, with a survey length of approximately 50 survey questions.

Highlights of the 2019 survey include:

1. Post-recession Jefferson County Quality-of-Life Perceptions
Among the wide variety of 12 community characteristics quality-of-life indicators that are included in the 2019 Annual Survey of Jefferson County, a distinct pattern over the most recent decade has emerged. The pattern appears to be that county residents were increasingly dissatisfied with local community characteristics during and shortly after the national recession of 2008-2014. Perceptions then improved dramatically from 2014 to 2018 suggesting satisfaction with the economic recovery in our nation being linked with satisfaction with many or all other Jefferson County quality-of-life indicators. As a result, the most positive results ever measured throughout the past two decades were found between 2016 and 2018 for many indicators. In 2019, results suggest a dampening of spirits slightly from the all-time highs measured during the post-recession period of the preceding 3-4 years, in many cases returning to long-term average satisfaction levels.

2. Attitudes Concerning Residents’ Personal Financial Situations
In 2019 two local community quality-of-life indicators that are related to personal and local economics continue to result with very positive results when placed in the perspective of 20 continuous years of survey sampling in the county. Although there remains much room for improvement, for the past three years (2017-2019) the rating of “Poor” has been the lowest ever measured in 20 years of surveying, currently “Poor” is at 32% (was as high as 66% in 2001, and 55% in 2014). Similarly, residents continue to be almost twice as likely to indicate that their personal financial situation in the past 12 months has gotten “Better” (30%), than they are to indicate gotten “Worse” (17%), again, some of the most positive results ever measured (in 2012 “Better”=16%, while “Worse”=21%).

3. Largest Issue Facing the Nation
For the past eleven years of surveying in Jefferson County (2009-2019) the question “What is the largest issue facing our nation right now?” has been included in this Annual Survey. Notable recent trends include but are not limited to: in 2009 a very large 81% of participants responded to this open-ended question with “Economy/Jobs” while the rate of responding this in 2019 has decreased to only 6%; at the same time “Government/Leadership” has increased from 3% in 2009 to 18% in 2019; and “Politically-polarized Society” emerged for the first time in 2018 at a 4% rate and has increased to 12% in 2019; and most dramatically “Immigration” has increased from 0% in 2016, to 3% in 2018, to 14% in 2019.

4. The Downtown of Watertown
One of the most dynamic and changing community indicators included in this study each year is residents’ ratings of the Downtown of Watertown. The “Excellent or Good” rate has shifted tremendously between 2000-2019, with dramatic increases and decreases between 2013-present. The 2019 rate of “Excellent or Good” is 35%. Notably, the “Poor” rate in 2019 is the lowest ever measured at only 15%. This is the only community quality-of-life indicator among the 12 studied indicators in 2019 that showed a significant improvement in satisfaction rating between 2018 and 2019 (in 2018 the “Poor” rate was 21%, and has been as high 39% in 2004, and 36% in 2008).

5. Personal Opinions Regarding Community and Societal Issues 
For the first time in 20 years of surveying quality-of-life and local governance issues in Jefferson County, the Center for Community Studies included a section of eleven survey items that relate to personal opinions of residents regarding issues that typically are of great importance to residents of any community and society. The issues studied ranged from healthcare funding, to social security, to the role of government, to Presidential approval, to gun control and rights, to abortion, to same-sex relationships, as well as other issues/topics that are typically commonly discussed and debated in our society. The goal was to learn what the overall predominate opinions are of the Jefferson County adult community. No political stance or objective was or will be taken, of course, by the independent and unbiased researchers at the Center for Community Studies. The results are summarized in the following table, with very interesting themes of those which are typically considered as conservative stances being dominant among county adult residents at times, while those which are typically considered as more moderate or somewhat liberal stances being dominant among county adult residents at other times.

 Statement “A” (% Agree) Statement “B” (% Agree) 
Same-sex RelationshipsWrong for adults to be romantically involved with other adults of the same sex.24%All right for adults to be romantically involved with other adults of the same sex.68%
Climate ChangeClimate change is pretty much exaggerated speculation.29%Climate change is pretty much a proven scientific conclusion.65%
Gun Control and RightsThe Second Amendment of the US Constitution protects an individual’s right to own guns, and that should not be compromised by laws such as the NYS Safe Act.64%Gun violence in the US is out of control and some gun regulation similar to the NYS Safe Act is necessary.29%
AbortionChoosing abortion is a woman’s right, and society should protect that right.62%Abortion is morally wrong, and society should prohibit it.30%
Responsibility for HealthcareSocietal responsibility and government should ensure that good healthcare is available to all people.62%Individual responsibility and government should stay out of it.32%
Social Security FundingSocial security should be privatized.33%Social security should be mostly left alone.60%
Federal Income Tax CutsOnly significantly benefited the very rich US residents.54%Significantly benefited all US residents.30%
Presidential ApprovalOverall I think President Trump is good for our country.52%Overall I think President Trump is bad for our country.37%
Globalism vs. NationalismThe US needs to maintain its strong leadership role in the world political and economic order.38%The US needs to refocus its attention on our own people and problems and let the rest of the world take care of itself.50%
MeToo! MovementOut of hand and greatly exaggerates some bad experiences of some women.40%Long overdue and is finally opening up peoples’ eyes to the inappropriate behavior that women have endured for years.45%
Building Physical Wall on US-Mexico BorderTo maintain and improve border security our country should build a physical wall along the entire US-Mexico border.42%To maintain and improve border security our country should use other available technological methods and not build a physical wall along the entire US-Mexico border.47%

The summary of findings for this study is available on the Center for Community Studies section of the Jefferson Community College website, www.sunyjefferson.edu/ccs.

For a copy of the entire detailed final report for this study, and for any further information regarding this study, please contact Research Director Joel F. LaLone, Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College, at 315-786-2264 or jlalone@sunyjefferson.edu. The detailed final report for this study includes a summary of the 2019 Jefferson County results, a copy of the complete survey instrument used this year, a trend analysis of the Jefferson County results from 2000-2019, a full analysis of potential relationships between key demographic characteristics of participants and their opinions and behaviors, and finally, comparisons to results of similar recent annual surveys completed by the Center in each of Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties.

The Development Authority of the North Country, the Northern New York Community Foundation, and Car-Freshner Corporation have partnered with Jefferson Community College in providing financial sponsorship of all three annual surveys completed by the Center for Community Studies in Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence Counties.

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