The Center for Community Studies (CCS) at Jefferson Community College released the findings of the 14th Annual Lewis County Survey of the Community at a virtual meeting of the Lewis County Board of Legislators on Tuesday, March 2, 2021.
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 14th Annual Survey data provides an information-rich “motion-picture” of changes in the lives of county residents over the past fourteen 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. Both of these neighboring counties were also surveyed in October 2020, and as a result, 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 474 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 258 telephone interviews on both the landline and cellular phones of Lewis County adult residents on the evenings of October 26-31, 2020. An additional 216 surveys were completed online by Lewis County adult residents after random email invitations to participate. The result of this sampling of a total of 474 county residents is an approximate margin of error of ±4.8% after weighting sample survey results toward Lewis County population characteristics.
Highlights of the 2020 Lewis County survey include:
1. Overall Quality of Life in Lewis County
It does not appear that the global COVID-19 pandemic has dampened the overall satisfaction that county residents continue to express with the overall quality of life in the county (78% rate as “Excellent or Good”, a rate that was 74% in the county in 2019). Many other rural and outdoor related aspects of life in the county also continue to be very positively perceived, while satisfaction with local economic factors continue to be less positive, but have not decreased significantly during the past year of pandemic.
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 three years. Opinions about these societal issues have remained quite stable over this three-year time frame with the following notable majority opinions among Lewis County Adults:
- 75% 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.”
- 68% of participants agree that “Systemic racism and social injustice are major problems in our country that need to be addressed.”
- 64% of participants agree that “Overall I think President Trump is good for our country.”
- 61% of participants agree that “Human contribution to climate change is pretty much a proven scientific conclusion.”
- 61% of participants agree that “It is all right for adults to be romantically involved with other adults of the same sex.”
- 54% of participants agree that “Choosing abortion is a woman's right, and society should protect that right.”
- 53% of participants agree that “Healthcare is a societal responsibility and government should ensure that good healthcare is available to all people.”
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 34% identifying as “conservative”, 44% as “middle of the road”, 12% 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 Lewis County Annual Survey of the Community. The most notable change that has 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 61% in October), President Trump and the U.S. government (satisfaction decreased from 62% to 56%), and Governor Cuomo and the N.Y.S. Public Health (satisfaction decreased from 55% to 43%). During this same time frame, satisfaction levels with response to the pandemic by the local Lewis County Public Health Department have increased (satisfaction increased from 78% to 82%).
4. Personal Financial Situations
Currently 77% of residents indicate that their personal financial situation has remained the same or improved in the past year (14% improved, the remainder remained same), while 23% indicate that this situation has gotten worse. Not unexpectedly, given the 2020 pandemic, the rate of expressing “gotten better” in 2020 (14%) is the lowest measured since 2014 in the county, while the rate of responding “gotten worse” (23%) is the highest observed since 2013. However, 2020 results are more positive than was found in the recession-related years of 2008-2012 – for example, in 2008 the rate of “gotten better” was only 12%, while the “gotten worse” was the all-time high of 40%.
5. Optimism Locally, But Not So Much Nationally
Lewis County residents continue to be optimistic about the “direction that things are heading” – 49% believe that things in the county are headed in the right direction while only 30% believe that things are headed in the wrong direction. On a nationwide basis, however, this optimism reduces – only 32% believe that things in the country are headed in the right direction while 50% 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 Lewis County
Lewis County adult residents are quite evenly-split in their support (43%) versus opposition (43%) of the potential for allowing the sale of legalized marijuana in the county (if sale was to become legalized in New York State). However, Lewis County adult residents respond with strong support (54%) versus opposition (32%) to the potential for allowing farmers to grow and profit from this new industry in the county.
7. Internet Access and Use in Lewis County
The overwhelming majority of Lewis County adult residents report that they access the Internet from home (only 3% report to not access from home). It is not uncommon that Lewis County residents report that an individual in their household is either learning or working remotely from home using the Internet:
- 22% of households include someone who is working at least part of their job remotely from home,
- 25% of households include someone who is learning remotely from home at the K-12 education level, and
- 13% of households include someone who is learning remotely from home at the college education level.
8. Who says polling is broken?
Once every four years community-based pollsters such as the Center for Community Studies are afforded the opportunity to test their methodology, or determine how they are doing, since every four years there is an election where both a sample poll may be completed, and after the election the true population voting result is known. Therefore, as a component of the 14th Annual Lewis County Survey of the Community, the Center took the opportunity to test whether the polling methodology and analysis employed would predict the actual 2020 Presidential Election results in the county. In fact, since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 caused a postponement in the Center’s annual surveys in neighboring Jefferson and Lewis Counties, it was decided to complete this sort of self-test three times by polling regarding the election in each of the three counties in late October 2020, then after all votes are certified, check to see – how close are the poll predictions, is the polling broken? Note that with a sample size of n=440 likely voters in Lewis County participating in this October 2020 sampling, this county-specific margin of error is ±6.0%. Similarly, the margins of error in Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties are ±5.7% and ±6.1%, respectively, due to varying sample sizes in counties. Therefore, if the prediction of the results of the November 3, 2020 Presidential Election by the Center for Lewis County were to fall within ±6.0% of the actual certified vote count, there would be no evidence that the polling at the Center is broken. A post-mortem analysis of the North Country 2020 Presidential Election polling resulted with:
- Center for Community Studies estimates correctly predicted that Trump would carry all three North Country counties, and agreed with actual election results when comparing the counties to one another. The polling predicted greatest support for Trump in Lewis County (63.8%), followed by Jefferson County (55.7%), and the least support in St. Lawrence County (52.6%), which is exactly the certified order of relative standing of support when comparing the counties, where the actual results in the three counties were 68.6%, 58.4%, and 54.8%, respectively.
- Most importantly, all three polling estimates in the counties fell well within the margins of error based upon collected sample sizes:
|County||CCS Polling Estimate for % Vote Trump (October 2020)||Actual % Vote Trump in 2020 Election (November 2020)||Margin of Error||Actual Error in the Poll|
The evidence provided in this self-test suggests that polling by the Center for Community Studies is not broken. There is every confidence that survey research completed by the Center does generate statistics that well describe and estimate all types of key community issues that are continuously studied and reported by the Center on behalf of North Country organizations. The same methodology and mathematical analysis that has been used in this political-election-self-test is utilized for all community studies completed by the Center.
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.
The entire final report of study findings, including the analysis and summary of the results and the complete survey instrument is available online.
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