The Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College released the findings of the 6th Annual St. Lawrence County Survey of the Community at a virtual meeting of the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators on Monday, April 19, 2021.
The survey is an annual inventory of the attitudes and opinions of a representative sample of St. Lawrence County adult residents, and has been completed by the Center each June in the county from 2015 - 2019. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Annual Survey was postponed from June 2020 until October 2020. A similar study has been completed annually by the Center for Community Studies in Jefferson County since 2000 and in Lewis County since 2007. Both of these neighboring counties were also surveyed in October 2020 in response to the pandemic.
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 St. Lawrence County. Additionally, the analysis of the 6th Annual Survey data provides an information-rich “motion-picture” of changes in the lives of county residents over the past six years when trends are investigated via comparing with earlier-year results. Current regional North Country county-level comparisons are also addressed.
A mixed-mode sampling design was employed in this study to complete a total of 435 interviews of adult residents of the county. Working under the supervision of the Center for Community Studies research staff in a virtual remote social-distanced call center, statistics students at the College completed 226 telephone interviews on both the landline and cellular phones of Jefferson County adult residents on the evenings of October 26-30, 2020. An additional 209 surveys were completed online by St. Lawrence County adult residents after random email invitations to participate. The result of this sampling of a total of 435 county residents is an approximate margin of error of ±5.2% after weighting sample survey results toward St. Lawrence County population characteristics.
Highlights of the 2020 St. Lawrence County survey include:
1. Quality of Life in St. Lawrence County
Seven total quality-of-life characteristics were studied in 2020. Four of the seven current levels of positive responses mirror that which has been measured in the past five years. The “Excellent or Good” ratings of Healthcare quality (44%, was 55% in 2019 with a previous low of 49% in 2017), Quality of K-12 education (60%, was 71% in 2019 with a previous low of 65% in 2015), and Overall quality of life (55%, was 70% in 2019 with a previous low of 59% in 2016) are the lowest reported since 2015. The two most negatively perceived indicators are economic in nature. The “Poor” ratings for the Availability of Good jobs (52%) and Overall state of the local economy (40%) are much higher than those of the other five measured items but similar to rates seen in previous years.
2. Personal Opinions Regarding Community and Societal Issues – Political Dissonance
In an attempt to better understand the communities and residents of the North Country, a series of personal political opinion survey items has been studied for the past two years. Opinions about these societal issues have remained quite stable over this three-year time frame with the following notable majority opinions among St. Lawrence County Adults:
- 70% of participants agree that “It is all right for adults to be romantically involved with other adults of the same sex.”
- 68% of participants agree that “Choosing abortion is a woman's right, and society should protect that right.”
- 68% of participants agree that “Systemic racism and social injustice are major problems in our country that need to be addressed.”
- 67% of participants agree that “Healthcare is a societal responsibility and government should ensure that good healthcare is available to all people.”
- 66% of participants agree that “Human contribution to climate change is pretty much a proven scientific conclusion.”
- 60% of participants agree that “The 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.”
- 57% of participants agree that “Overall I think President Trump is good for our country.”
- 53% of participants agree that “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.”
A portion of these dominant opinions include those which are typically considered as conservative stances, while others are those which are typically considered as more moderate or somewhat liberal stances. The 2020 sample results regarding self-described political ideology of participants has paralleled that which has recurred virtually every year of study, with 33% identifying as “conservative”, 43% as “middle of the road”, 15% as “liberal”, and 9% “unsure.”
3. COVID-19 Pandemic – Resident Opinions and Behaviors
Residents of the county were surveyed in April 2020 as part of a locally developed and sponsored Public Health study and they were asked many items related to impact, experience, fears, expectations, and satisfactions related to the COVID-19 pandemic that was very new to our world at that time. Several of these survey items were revisited and tracked six months later in this St. Lawrence County Annual Survey of the Community. The most notable changes that have emerged in this follow-up research is that satisfaction levels with response to the pandemic for each of the following three levels of government have decreased during the first six months of the pandemic: the U.S. Public Health and the CDC (satisfaction decreased from 67% in April to 57% in October), President Trump and the U.S. government (satisfaction decreased from 54% to 47%), and Governor Cuomo and the N.Y.S. Public Health (satisfaction decreased from 60% to 49%). During this same time frame, satisfaction levels with response to the pandemic by the local St. Lawrence County Public Health Department have increased (satisfaction increased from 68% to 80%).
4. Personal Financial Situations
Currently 61% of residents indicate that their personal financial situation has remained the same in the past year, 8% indicate that it has improved, while 31% indicate that this situation has gotten worse. Not unexpectedly, given the 2020 pandemic, the rate of expressing “gotten better” in 2020 is the lowest ever measured in the County (the previously recorded lowest rate was 17% 2017). The rate of responding “gotten worse” is the highest observed since 2015 with the previous high seen in 2019 when 21% of participants indicated that their personal financial situation had gotten worse in the last twelve months.
5. Optimism Locally, But Not So Much Nationally
St. Lawrence County residents are more optimistic about the “direction that things are heading” locally than nationally. Of the survey participants, 36% of respondents believe that things in the county are headed in the right direction while slightly fewer (34%) believe that things are headed in the wrong direction. On a nationwide basis the opinions are much more solidly reversed, only 27% (a decrease from 39% in 2019) believe that things in the country are headed in the right direction while 54% (an increase from 48% in 2019) believe that things are headed in the wrong direction.
6. Potential Legalization of Recreational Marijuana Use in New York State – Opinions
about Growth and Sale in St. Lawrence County
County adult residents strongly support both the sale (61% support, 23% oppose) and the potential for allowing farmers to grow and profit from this new industry in the county (71% support, 17% oppose).
7. Internet Access and Use in St. Lawrence County
Nearly all St. Lawrence County adult residents report that they access the Internet from home (less than 1% report to not access from home). Many of the county residents are using the Internet to either work from home or learn remotely from home:
- 23% of households include someone who is working at least part of their job remotely from home,
- 28% of households include someone who is learning remotely from home at the K-12 education level, and
- 11% of households include someone who is learning remotely from home at the college education level.
The sponsors of this Annual survey of St. Lawrence County are Jefferson Community College, the Northern New York Community Foundation, and the Development Authority of the North Country, who all provide financial support to assist in the funding of these projects.
The entire final report of study findings, including the analysis and summary of the results and the complete survey instrument, is available online on the Center for Community Studies section of the Jefferson Community College website.
Featured Honors Program Student Khwezi Pezisa
Khwezi L. Pezisa, Watertown, is the featured Jefferson Community College (JCC) Honors Program student for the month of March 2024.