The Center for Community Studies (CCS) at Jefferson Community College released the findings of the 13th Annual Lewis County Survey of the Community at a meeting of the Lewis County Board of Legislators on Tuesday, March 3, 2020 at 4:00 p.m. The meeting took place in the Board of Legislator’s Chambers located on the second floor of the Lewis County Court House, 7660 North State Street, Lowville. The public was invited to attend the presentation.
The survey is an annual inventory of the attitudes and opinions of a representative sample of Lewis County adult residents, and has been completed by the Center each October in the county since 2007. The primary goal of the survey is to collect data regarding quality of life issues of importance to local citizens, and as a result this study provides an annual “snapshot” of life in Lewis County. Additionally, the analysis of the 13th Annual Survey data provides an information-rich “motion-picture” of changes in the lives of county residents over the past thirteen years when trends are investigated via comparing with earlier-year results. Further, a similar study has been completed annually by the Center for Community Studies in Jefferson County since 2000, and in St. Lawrence County since 2015, therefore, regional North Country county-level comparisons are also addressed.
Working under the supervision of the CCS research staff, statistics students at the College completed 381 telephone interviews on both the landline and cellular phones of Lewis County adult residents on the evenings of October 29-30, 2019, while an additional 158 surveys were completed online by Lewis County adult residents after random email invitations to participate. The result of this sampling of a total of 539 county residents is an approximate margin of error of ±4.8% after weighting and calibrating sample survey results toward Lewis County population characteristics.
Highlights of the 2019 Lewis County survey include:
1. The Environment and Overall Quality of Life in Lewis County
Residents continue to express high satisfaction with the overall quality of life in the county (74% rate as “Excellent or Good”) while the next most positively rated aspects of the county are safety (74% rate “Policing and Crime Control” as “Excellent or Good”) and the outdoors (70% rate “Public Outdoor Recreation Opportunities” as “Excellent or Good”). Further demonstrating support for the outdoor activities in the county, residents overwhelmingly support further development of walking, hiking, and biking trails (87%) and strongly support further development of ATV and snowmobiling trails (74%).
2. Agriculture in Lewis County
Residents of the county overwhelmingly believe that the impact that agriculture has on the local economy in the county is more positive than negative – 89% believe that the impact is more positive, while only 8% believe that the impact is more negative. Six potential threats to agriculture in Lewis County were studied and by far the two most perceived as serious threats are “it is too expensive to farm now, because of things like taxes and small profit margins” (76% perceive as a major threat), and “the lack of new or young farmers who will replace existing farmers” (76% perceive as a major threat).
3. The Local Lewis County Economy
Since 2017, many local community quality-of-life indicators that are related to personal and local economics have resulted with the most positive results measured in 13 years of surveying in the county. Regarding “Availability of Good Jobs” locally, the rate of responding “Poor” has decreased dramatically and significantly from the all-time high of 57% found in 2011, and more recently from a rate of 53% found in the county in 2014, to the recent 2019 all-time low rate of 29%; while at the same time “Excellent or Good” has reached an all-time high in the county of 25%-26% in the past two years (was only 10% in 2011). Currently 85% of residents indicate that their personal financial situation has remained the same or improved in the past year (31% improved, the remainder remained same), while only 14% indicate that this situation has gotten worse. For the third time ever, a greater percentage of residents responded with “gotten better” than “gotten worse” (31% to 14%, respectively, in 2019). As a comparison, in 2008 the rates were – only 12% responded “gotten better”, while 40% responded “gotten worse”.
4. Government Services in Lewis County
Several local government services are tracked annually in this survey and in 2019 two had very positive recent trends in results, “Access to Higher Education” with a rating of “Excellent or Good” increasing from 46% in 2018 to 56% in 2019, and “Policing and Crime Control” with a rating of “Excellent or Good” increasing from 64% in 2017 to 74% in 2019. Conversely, two of these type of local community indicators had their most negative results ever found, “Availability of Care for the Elderly” and “Availability of Childcare”, with 16% and 22%, respectively, rating as “Poor”.
5. Optimism Locally, But Not So Much Nationally
On a local basis, Lewis County residents are very optimistic about the direction that things are heading – 61% believe that things in the county are headed in the right direction while only 18% believe that things are headed in the wrong direction. On a nationwide basis, however, this optimism reduces – only 42% believe that things in the country are headed in the right direction while 43% believe that things are headed in the wrong direction.
6. Personal Opinions Regarding Community and Societal Issues – Political Dissonance
For the past two years the Center for Community Studies has included a section of approximately twelve 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, farm subsidization, to the role of government, to Presidential approval, to gun control and rights, to building a physical wall on the US-Mexico border, to abortion, to same-sex relationships, to free college tuition, as well as other issues/topics that are typically commonly discussed and debated in our society. The goal is to learn what the overall predominate opinions are of the Lewis 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. Notably, 37% of participants self-describe as “conservative” while only 10% self-describe as “liberal”, and the most common response is “middle of the road” (47%). The results for studied societal issues are summarized in the following table, with very interesting themes of political dissonance among Lewis County residents. Dominant opinions include those which are typically considered as conservative stances being most common among county adult residents at times, while those which are typically considered as more moderate or somewhat liberal stances being dominant among those same county adult residents at other times. An additional societal issue of significance was studied in Lewis County in 2008 and reintroduced to the 2019 study – the legalization of marijuana. In 2008 only about one-in-four Lewis County adults (26%) indicated that they believed that marijuana should be legal for both recreational and medicinal purposes – this rate has increased significantly to being the most common response in 2019 (43%). Currently approximately three-fourths of local adults (74% in 2019, was only 60% in 2008) support legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Less than one-fourth of Lewis County adults (23%) in 2019 believe that marijuana should not be legalized at all for either medicinal or recreational purposes (was 33% in 2008). Personal opinion results in 2019 are summarized in a table on page 10 of the Summary of Findings report.
The sponsors of these annual surveys of the North Country communities are Jefferson Community College, the Northern New York Community Foundation, the Development Authority of the North Country, and the Lewis County Board of Legislature who all provide financial support to assist in the funding of these projects.
A summary of study findings will be available on March 4, 2020 on the Center for Community Studies section of the Jefferson Community College website. The entire study final report of findings, including the analysis and summary of the results and the complete survey instrument, is available by contacting Mr. Joel LaLone, Research Director at the Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College, 315-786-2264, firstname.lastname@example.org.