The Center for Community Studies (CCS) at Jefferson Community College (JCC) released the findings of its 23rd Annual North Country Survey of the Community on Thursday, January 26, 2023.
The survey is an annual inventory of the attitudes and opinions of a representative sample of North Country adult residents, and has been completed by the Center each year in Jefferson County since 2000. The survey expanded to include Lewis County annually in 2007, and further expanded to include St. Lawrence County in 2015. The primary goal of the survey is to collect data regarding quality-of-life issues of importance to local citizens, and consequently provides an annual “snapshot” of life in the North Country. Additionally, analysis of the 23rd Annual Survey data provides an information-rich “motion-picture” of changes in the lives of residents spanning over 20 years when trends are investigated via comparing with earlier-year results. The longitudinal trended data included in this study summarize results of over 20,000 interviews that have been completed in a total of 47 county-specific surveys of the community in the three counties since 2000.
In 2022, a mixed-mode sampling design was employed in the study to complete a total of 1,458 interviews of adult residents of the tri-county region, with 563 Jefferson County residents, 465 Lewis County residents, and 430 St. Lawrence County residents. Working under the supervision of the CCS research staff in both a social-distanced call center in Watertown and a virtual remote call center, statistics students at the College completed 561 telephone interviews on both the landline and cellular phones of North Country adult residents on the evenings of October 26-31, 2022. An additional 820 surveys were completed online by North Country adult residents after receiving random email invitations to participate, and finally, 77 intercept surveys were completed at Fort Drum to assist in attaining accurate representation of the military-affiliated subpopulation in the sample collected in the study. The result of this sampling of 1,458 North Country residents is an approximate margin of error of ±2.9% after weighting sample survey results toward North Country population characteristics.
Highlighted Findings from the 2022 Study:
More than in any previous year of study, North Country residents in 2022 expressed that out-of-pocket cost-of living expenses are problematic. “Inflation” was by far the most common free response provided by participants (40%) to the open-ended question “What do you think is the single largest issue that is facing residents of the North Country right now?”
Personal Financial Situations Getting Worse
The rate of expressing that one’s personal financial situation has “gotten worse” in 2022 among North Country adults (51% in the three-county region combined, over 60% in St. Lawrence County) is the highest ever measured since tracking of this variable began in 2008. Universally in the past “remained the same” has been the most common response to this survey item. In 2022 “getting worse” is the most common response in all three studied counties. Of note is the tremendous change in responses to this survey question between 2019 and 2022 – comparing pre-pandemic to the current endemic coronavirus period. Responses of “gotten worse” increased from under 20% in the region in 2019 to over 50% in 2022. The 2022 results are even more negative than the difficult recession-related year of 2008 (when the rate of “gotten better” was only 12%, while the “gotten worse” was the previous all-time high of approximately 40%).
What direction are things heading – In the country? In New York State? In the North
North Country residents in 2022 have expressed clear and increasing concern that, in general, things in New York State and in the entire U.S. are heading in the wrong direction. In 2022 only 14% of participants believe that things in the country are headed in the right direction, while 68% believe that things in the country are headed in the wrong direction (similarly, these rates were 18% and 68%, respectively, while assessing the direction of things in New York State in 2022). Residents, however, are more optimistic, although not tremendously positive, with how things are going locally as 33% of participants in 2022 believe that things in their county are headed in the right direction, while 41% believe that things in their county are headed in the wrong direction. These local satisfaction rates have dropped significantly recently, as an example, these rates in Lewis County were 61% right and 18% wrong, respectively, when first measured in the 2019 survey.
Quality of K-12 Education, Residents are Currently Less Satisfied than has been Found
in the Past
A long-term tracked community quality-of-life variable that has been recorded is level of agreement/disagreement with the statement “K-12 schools in your county are adequately preparing our young people for the technology and economy of the future.” In 2022, the level of satisfaction with local K-12 education in the North Country has reached the lowest satisfaction ever measured. A minority of North Country adults agree with this statement (only 36% of adult residents responded with “agree”). The rate of agreement at times has been as high as 80%, and recently in 2017 the rate of agreement represented a majority in all three studied counties (in 2017 the rate was 75% in Lewis, 69% in St. Lawrence, and 56% in Jefferson).
Availability of Housing and Healthcare
Adults in the North Country in 2022 are less satisfied with the five following studied community-and-government-provided services: Healthcare access; Availability of care for the elderly; Availability of housing; Availability of childcare; and Availability of behavioral health services. The rates responding “Excellent or Good” to each of these services are significantly lower than long-term local averages.
Access to Higher Education in the North Country – Stable or Improving
In each of Jefferson County and St. Lawrence County the likelihood to rate access to higher education has remained quite stable over the duration of surveying in the respective counties (2022 rate of “Excellent or Good” in Jefferson is 60% with a long-term county average of 64%; and the 2022 rate of “Excellent or Good” in St. Lawrence is 75% with a long-term county average of 74%). By contrast, satisfaction with access to higher education in Lewis County has shown recent improvement (2022 rate of “Excellent or Good” in Lewis is 53% with a past rate of 37% when first measured in 2009, 42% in 2021, and a long-term county average of 45%).
Political Ideology – What the majority of residents self-report is not what tends
to get the most publicity
In all three counties it has consistently been the case over the past 23 years of North Country public opinion polling that when asked one’s political beliefs or ideology, middle-of-the-road is the most common response. Regardless of the overwhelming notion in our current society of political polarization, it remains that among North Country adult residents 44% identify as middle-of-the-road; 32% conservative; 14% liberal; and 10% not sure.
2022 Mid-term Election Polling
In recent years the Center for Community Studies has completed political election polling as a component of this quality-of-life survey study. During this 2022 study election polling was completed for all three of: the New York State Governor’s race (Kathy Hochul vs. Lee Zeldin); the NY 21st Congressional Election (Elise Stefanik vs. Matt Castelli); and the NY 24th Congressional Election (Claudia Tenney vs. Steven Holden). The Center for Community Studies polled and predicted election results for both the tri-county region and each county. Each of these nine election predictions based on CCS polling fell within the margin of error of the actual certified election results. Results of the CCS 2022 election polling are summarized in the final report.
North Country Opinions Regarding National-level Political Issues
When data for this study was collected, timing was two weeks preceding the elections in November 2022. At that point in time, much research was being completed nationwide attempting to identify possible variables that are strongly linked with voter choices. Three of these national-level political issues that were investigated and a summary of the local tri-county results are:
- 53% of participants disagree while 21% agree, with the statement: “The people who were arrested for entering the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 were lawfully exercising their right as Americans to protest."
- 44% of participants agree while 33% disagree, with the statement "I believe that the 2020 Presidential election was fair and Joe Biden won the election."
- 46% of participants disagree while 27% agree, with the statement: "If he decides to run, I prefer that Donald Trump be reelected as President in 2024 over any other Republican or Democrat candidate who might run against him."
Sponsors of the 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 provide financial support to assist in the funding of these projects.
The entire final report of study findings, including the detailed statistical analysis and summary of results, will be available on the CCS website.
Kori M. Nichols Named Athlete of the Week
Freshman guard, Kori M. Nichols, of the Jefferson Community College (JCC) women's basketball team was named JCC athlete of the week for the week ending December 3, 2023. JCC's athlete of the week program is sponsored by Victory Promotions.