Release 99-128
Oct. 20, 1998
Survey Finds Education Top Issue For County Residents

Education has risen to the top concern for County residents, according to a poll conducted by Anne Arundel Community College’s Center for the Study of Local Issues. The poll was taken October 12-15 and shows that 29 percent of respondents volunteered education when asked "what do you think is the most important problem facing the residents of Anne Arundel County at the present time."

The Center’s director, Dan Nataf, remarked that "this is the highest level of concern seen for education for at least the last four years. We have not seen any of the top concerns (crime, growth, education and taxes) change by this large a percentage from one survey to the next." When the Center conducted its previous survey last spring, education was the top concern of only 17 percent. (See table 1 at end of press release).

By contrast, crime continued its steady downward trend as an element of concern, dipping below 20 percent (to 19 percent) for the first time in three years. Growth/transportation issues showed less change, with a short drop from 28 percent in spring to 26 percent this fall.

Concern for education was even more dramatic when residents were asked "Thinking about the upcoming election in November, if there was one thing you could tell the winning candidate for County Executive to be sure to do, what would that be?"

Three categories of education-related responses were produced. The first was a general attitude towards "helping education" or "focus on education" that received 21 percent of responses. The second was more closely directed at providing additional funding or resources to public schools with responses such as "more money for schools" or "deal with overcrowding, add teachers, build more schools." This response category was cited by an additional 17 percent.

The last category was only cited by one percent of the sample and concerned discipline and school safety issues. Together the three categories rounded to 40 percent of all responses to this question.

Nataf noted "Crime (6 percent) and growth/transportation (16 percent) dropped sharply when we asked the ‘top concern’ question in the context of the upcoming election." Taxes, which were cited by only 6 percent of respondents when asked about the "most important problem facing the residents of Anne Arundel County," seemed much more salient when the sample was asked about priorities of the incoming County Executive (lower taxes, control spending, shrink government - 16 percent).

In addition, a significant share (12 percent) of the sample mentioned credibility or governing style issues such as honesty, keeping promises, friendliness, and reaching consensus with others.

According to the Center’s director, "While the perennial issues of crime and growth have by no means disappeared in this election, the public seems more concerned with education, taxes and credibility or honesty."

Property Tax Cap Issues

The survey also asked two questions about the County’s property tax cap. The first was a tracking question that has been asked since spring 1996. "Some people believe that the County’s ability to provide certain services has declined due to the County’s property tax cap. Others think it hasn’t affected services. Do you think the tax cap hurts the ability of the County to provide services to its citizens?"

This fall only 27 percent agreed that the cap had hurt services, compared to 29 percent last fall. However, a sizable minority fell into the "don’t know" category, rising from 17 percent a year ago to 21 percent this fall. "The tax cap continues to receive strong support despite the public’s desire to improve education at least partially through additional funding" remarked Nataf.

There were no statistically significant relationships between the perception of whether the tax cap had hurt the ability to provide services and demographic variables such as age, gender and party affiliation. While the relationship between likelihood to vote and perception was not statistically significant (p<.17), there was a trend for likely voters to perceive the tax cap more favorably than others.

When asked whether the tax cap should apply to both residential and commercial properties or just residential, a majority favored both commercial and residential (57 percent) over just residential (25 percent), although a large minority didn’t know or cited some other response (18 percent).

NASCAR, Planning Issues

On other state and local issues, the survey found that the proposed "building of a NASCAR race track in the northern part of the County" was supported by 36 percent, opposed by 42 percent with the remainder (22 percent) unsure or having no opinion. Respondents in the northern part of the County were more evenly divided on this issue than were those in the south.

Only 31 percent of the sample were aware of small area planning committees which the County has created to supplement the general development plan. (66 percent were not aware of such committees, 3 percent unsure).

This percentage is about the same as the proportion who knew that the general development plan was being revised in fall 1995 (29 percent). "There seems to be an attentive third of the population which follows the County’s attempts to manage growth and land use issues," suggested Nataf.

On state tax issues, the survey asked "The state legislature has passed a 10 percent reduction in state income tax, phased in over three years. Do you feel this tax cut was about right, too large or too small?" Fifty percent of the sample replied that the cut was "about right" with 13 percent saying too large, and 23 percent saying too small (14 percent unsure/no answer).

When asked whether they would support "a small increase in the gas tax to allow Maryland to better maintain its roads and public transportation system" the public was evenly split, with 46 percent supporting and 47 percent opposed (8 percent unsure, no answer).

The legalization of slot machines at racetracks in Maryland received relatively strong support, with 54 percent in favor and 38 opposed (8 percent unsure, no answer).

Transportation Issues

A transportation theme structured much of the rest of the survey. When asked how serious were "local transportation problems," 24 percent said "very serious," 32 percent answered "somewhat serious," with 35 percent saying "not very serious" (9 percent unsure/no answer). By contrast, the public’s commute seemed less of a problem as only 12 percent said "very serious" when asked about their transportation problems "in getting to and from work." Another 16 percent said "somewhat serious" while 62 percent said "not very serious" (10 percent unsure/no answer).

A large majority of the sample worked within Anne Arundel County (62 percent). Respondents in the Annapolis area were especially likely to work within the County (92 percent), while those living in the Crofton/Davidsonville area were most likely to commute to Prince Georges County, the District of Columbia or Virginia (57 percent were commuting outside of Anne Arundel County).

When asked what was the "most important problem with transportation in Anne Arundel County," "traffic congestion" was the most frequently cited item (31 percent). The idea that there were not enough roads or highways was mentioned by 15 percent, including several who specifically mentioned the lack of alternative roads. Eleven percent said either there was "overcrowding on the roads" or that the roads were in a "poor state of repair and/or inadequate engineered." The lack of public transportation was mentioned by 17 percent of the sample. A small number (5 percent) also mentioned specific problems with public transportation such as inconvenient schedules or expense.

When those currently driving to work were asked why they did not use public transportation or carpools to get to work, the reasons most cited included the following:

  • "There isn’t any public transportation close to my house that goes where I work" (68 percent);
  • "My employer provides free parking" (65 percent);
  • "I need to have a car handy for emergencies" (58 percent);
  • "I work irregular hours and can’t coordinate times with other people or rely on public transportation" (55 percent); and,
  • "The public transportation I could use would add a lot of time to my commute" (51 percent).
The poll presented a range of specific proposals meant to reduce traffic problems. Respondents were asked whether they generally supported the idea, and then whether they were personally likely to take advantage of proposal mentioned.

The idea of putting a light rail linkage between Glen Burnie and Annapolis was presented in terms of three possible alignments. Two alignments received nearly identical levels of support: taking the connection down Ritchie Highway (63 percent in favor, 29 percent against, 9 percent unsure/no answer) and putting it on the I-97 freeway (64 percent in favor, 27 percent against, 9 percent unsure/no answer).

By contrast, there was much less support for putting the connection on the Baltimore/Annapolis Trail (40 percent in favor, 46 percent against, 14 percent unsure/no answer).

When asked whether they would use the various alignments, 42 percent said they would use the Ritchie Highway linkage, 46 percent would use the I-97 alignment, and only 30 percent the Baltimore/Annapolis Trail alignment.

Relatively high levels of support were generated for some other transportation options:

  • Build or upgrade highly congested roads/intersections (77 percent favor, 76 percent would use);
  • Creating a system of local buses to pick up people and take them to major local commercial centers, recreation centers, or park and ride lots (71 percent support, 53 percent would use);
  • Creating more express bus or light rail trains (70 percent support, 49 percent would use);
  • Increase bus availability to D.C. or Baltimore City (69 percent support, 47 percent would use;
  • "Make it easier to get to MARC trains" (67 percent support, 47 percent would use); and,
  • "Make it easier to find other people with whom to carpool (63 percent support, 37 percent would use).
There wasn’t as much support for increasing bus availability to neighboring counties (51 percent support, 30 percent would use) or reducing fares on public transportation (52 percent support, 45 percent would use).

According to Nataf, "these findings indicate that most people still focus on improving roads as the primary method of solving traffic congestion problems, but transit oriented options that shorten travel time or focus on local trips also seem favored."

Smart Growth vs. No Growth

Three questions tapped more directly into the public’s attitudes towards "smart growth" versus "no growth." The first question asked for support for the "smart growth" proposition to "allow more intense development of areas well served by public transportation." This idea split the public with 45 percent against, and 43 percent in favor (12 percent unsure/no answer).

"No growth" proposals were more well received. A majority supported both the proposal to "severely limit new residential construction through sharply higher impact fees" (54 percent in favor, 34 percent against, 12 percent unsure or no answer) and "place a moratorium on any new residential construction in your area (53 percent in favor, 35 percent against, 12 percent unsure or no answer).

Breaking down responses by zip regrouped roughly into councilmanic districts indicated that the popularity of the "smart growth" proposal for concentrating development near transit stops was highest (60 percent) in the Linthicum (council district 1) area and least popular in the Crownswille/Odenton area (council district 4- 29 percent) and Severna Park/Arnold (council district 5 – 37 percent).

However, the proposals to sharply reduce growth were most embraced by the Pasadena area (council district 3 – 65 percent for impact fees, 72 percent for moratorium) along with Severna Park/Arnold (70 percent for impact fees, 56 percent for moratorium).

The survey was conducted by the Center for the Study of Local Issues during the week of October 12-15, 1998. A total of 355 County residents were polled, with a margin of error of approximately five percent (5.25 percent). The error for subgroups such as councilmanic districts is greater. The "p" value generally accepted as denoting the presence of a statistically significant relationship between variables is .05 or less.

For more information about CSLI, call Nataf (410) 541-2733, or visit the CSLI website at


Table 1: Most important problem facing the residents of
Anne Arundel County at the present time (Percentage citing this problem)
Fall, ‘95
Spring, ‘96
Fall, ‘96
Spring ‘97
Fall, ‘97
Spring ‘98
Fall ‘98
Table 2: What County Executive Should Do
Help, Improve or Focus on schools 
More Money for schools 
School Discipline or safety 
Crime or drugs 
Growth or environment 
Lower taxes, shrink government, manage budget 
Honesty, morality, consensus, credibility
Helping people