Fall, 1999 CSLI Survey
Survey Finds Public Optimistic About Local Economy
The public was over four times as likely to think that the local economy had "gotten better" over the last year (43%) compared to the percentage saying it had "gotten worse" (10%) according to a poll conducted by Anne Arundel Community College's Center for the Study of Local Issues. In addition, the poll showed the public more than twice as likely to say that the "overall quality of life in the County" had "gotten better" (34%) compared to "gotten worse" (14%). The remainder felt that the conditions had stayed "about the same."
These positive results were echoed by the percentage of residents saying the County was going the "right direction" (54%), which was twice the percentage of those saying the "wrong direction" (27%, 19% no answer or unsure).
Taken October 11-14, the poll showed that respondents were least impressed by the County's ability to reduce traffic congestion, with nearly five times as many (70%) saying that the situation had gotten worse over the last year compared to those saying it had gotten better (15%). (See Table 2).
The poll also reviewed a series of other local issues including "the most important problem facing the residents of Anne Arundel County," taxes, commercial development, elected school boards, local residents' buying habits and preference for locally owned stores rather than larger chains as well as the public's propensity for going online.
The Most Important Problem
Each semester, the CSLI poll starts off with the question "what do you think is the most important problem facing the residents of Anne Arundel County at the present time?"
While recent polls had shown a tendency for crime to drop and education to rise, this poll found that education has dropped since the last poll (from 24% to 18%) with a corresponding rise in crime (from 12% to 19%). Growth remained the most frequently cited problem although it too dropped somewhat in importance (from 31% to 27%). (Crime="crime" and "drugs;" Growth="growth" and "traffic/transportation").
Taxes were not a frequently cited problem, staying in the single digits (7%). Other respondents pointed to issues such as the environment (5%), the economy (3%), and miscellaneous "other" problems (7%). A significant percentage (16%) could not think of any "most important problem."
The Center's director, Dan Nataf, commented that "the focus on education during the elections in November 1998 was apparently a spike in the public's attention rather than a deep seated change in relative importance."
Table 1: Most important problem facing the residents of Anne Arundel County at the present time (Percentage citing this problem)
The poll found that respondents remained hostile to changes in the tax picture. Most (50%) believed that the County's tax cap did not hurt the ability of the County to provide services to its citizens, while only 30 percent felt that the tax cap had affected services (20% unsure or no answer). Only 33% would support an increase in taxes to generate additional revenue for the County.
In keeping with results previously reported by the Center, public opinion was not a very useful guide to budgetary trade-offs. When asked whether increasing taxes or lowering the level of services would be preferable "if the County needed additional funds to maintain services," the preferred answer was "neither." While a majority (56%) opposed increasing taxes, an even larger majority (72%) opposed any lowering of the level of services.
Center director Nataf remarked that "CSLI polls have shown time and time again that the public does not perceive a natural trade-off between accepting budgetary limits through opposition to tax increases, and an inevitable impact upon the level of services. Apparently, the belief is that the County can continue to provide or even enhance services without going to the taxpayers for more money."
Problems in the County: Getting better, staying the same, or getting worse
In keeping with opposition to tax increases, the poll found that respondents were more inclined to think that County efforts to "keeping taxes low" were not completely effective (15% saying "getting better," 26% saying "getting worse"). A majority seemed relatively satisfied with the tax "status quo" as 59 percent thought that County efforts had "stayed about the same" over the last year.
Table 2 shows the various items ranked according to their mean coded score, a method for ensuring fair ranking. The importance of growth related problems, as mentioned previously when discussing the "most important problem" was clearly demonstrated by the tendency for respondents to claim the least improvement for items such as "planning growth and development" and "reducing traffic congestion."
The imbalance between growth and the County's infrastructure was also highlighted by the low "getting better" score for "reducing the backlog in school maintenance and repair," although that item had a large number of missing cases suggesting that this item was not particularly clear to respondents.
These negative feelings about growth would seem likely to foreshadow a dismal appraisal of the state of the environment. However, "improving the environment" was a relative bright spot, with a larger percentage saying "gotten better" (35%) than "gotten worse" (26%). However this item showed significant polarization, as less than a majority (39%) thought the situation had "stayed about the same."
While respondents felt a series of problems were more likely to have "gotten worse" than "gotten better" such as "improving ethics," "improving government efficiency," "academic performance" and "keeping taxes low," these were not among the most serious problems. All except "academic performance" exhibited around a ten percent point imbalance favoring "gotten worse" over "gotten better," but a majority said "stayed about the same." The "academic performance" item showed a more polarized public, with only about a third saying "stayed the same" and the remainder thinking it got better (27%) or worse (37%).
Table 2: Have Problems Gotten Better, Stayed the Same or Gotten Worse (in percentage, ranked by mean response)
I am going to read you a list of problems facing the County. Please tell me how well you think the County has dealt with these problems over the last year. Has the problem gotten better, stayed about the same, or gotten worse?
The prospect of additional commercial developments helping the County offer services and broaden its tax base was embraced by those polled. When asked "do you think that commercial developments like Arundel Mills will be a positive or a negative factor for Anne Arundel County in the coming years," over half (59%) responded that it was a positive factor, while only half as many viewed such developments as negative for the County (26%, 15% unsure or no answer). A plurality also favored "broadening the tax base by increasing commercial development" (48%) compared to those opposing (39%) or unsure/no answer (13%).
The public clearly supported the County Council in its efforts to put an elected school board on the political agenda, as 73 percent supported an elected school board, compared to only 11 percent opposing (16% unsure or no answer).
These results contrast with findings from the spring 1999 CSLI survey. At that time, residents were presented with six different school board selection alternatives, including elected school boards. While the latter was the most favored of the various alternatives, the difference was small, with less than a majority favoring elected school boards (49% favoring, 36% opposing, 14% unsure/no answer).
Nataf suggested that "this time the question was couched in terms of an action by the County Council. Perhaps the public felt that the Council provided leadership on this confusing issue. Alternatively, the choice presented in this survey was simpler - support or oppose an elected school board - and the public wasn't forced to consider other choices."
Public's Buying Habits
This survey sought to better understand the residents' buying habits by asking them where they would be most likely to purchase various types of goods and services: within the County; outside the County; mail order or TV; or the Internet. (See Table 3 for a complete list)
In nearly all cases, respondents said that they purchased goods and services from within County locations, with groceries (97%) and major appliances (91%) leading the way. Also relatively high "within County" purchases included clothes (84%) and dining/entertainment (82%).
The least likely "within County" purchase was travel services (46%) with residents saying that they shopped out of the County (21%) or the Internet (25%) for such services. Of the other items listed, the least frequently obtained within the County were cars (70%) and furniture (74%). The only other item to hold any attraction for online purchasers was computer equipment (9% buying online).
Nataf said "the ability or necessity to shop locally for groceries is clear, perhaps pointing to the abundance of local markets, the imperative of quickly transporting frozen items, and a tendency to make last minute purchasing decisions close to home. Some of the other findings were not as clear, such as the strong probability of purchasing major appliances within the County, but a weaker tendency to purchase automobiles and furniture here."
Table 3: Public's Purchase of Items by Location, Ranked by Frequency of Within County Purchasing (in percent)
Overall, the public seemed relatively satisfied with "the availability of goods and services at a reasonable price in Anne Arundel County," with 17 percent saying the availability was excellent, 56 percent saying good, and only 27 saying fair or poor.
The survey focused another related section on residents' preference for locally owned stores over larger chains. One-third of the sample said that they did "place special importance on shopping at locally-owned stores rather than larger chains." When presented with a list of possible reasons to explain this inclination, three reasons were most frequently cited: "helps support the community" (85%), "greater convenience" (76%), and "better service" (73%).
The CSLI poll asked respondents whether they "currently have an Internet account that you can use from your home." Well over half (58%) of the sample had such an account. (See Table 4 for details).
Several factors determined the likelihood that respondents would have an Internet account. Age was statistically related, with only 25 percent of those 60 or over having an account, compared to 69 percent of those between 45 and 59 years of age. Education was also statistically related, with only 35 percent of those having only a high school degree possessing an Internet account, compared to 79 percent of those with post graduate work. Nataf pointed out that "just having any college education boosted considerably the chances of a resident having an account from 35 percent to 58 percent, which shows the impact of technology on higher education and students."
Income was also an important variable, as nearly 90 percent (89%) of those with incomes between $75,000 and $100,000 had Internet accounts, while only 40 percent of those with incomes between $30,000 and $50,000. For those with incomes below $30,000, the percentage with accounts was only 23 percent.
Gender played some role in differentiating online access. Men were more likely (63%) than women (54%) to have an Internet account accessible from their homes.
Overall, the age group between 45 and 59 was the best educated and wealthiest, accounting for their high propensity to have Internet accounts. By contrast, those 60 or over were the least educated and poorest, and were consequently the least likely to have Internet accounts. Nataf mentioned that "the importance of education and income could lead to a deep social cleavage between the technological haves and have-nots. At this time, poor seniors seem to be the most left out of the online world."
Table 4: Demographic Variables and Internet Access from Home (in percent)
The survey was conducted by the Center for the Study of Local Issues during the week of October 11-14, 1999. A total of 446 County residents were polled, with a margin of error of approximately five percent. The error for subgroups such as age groups is greater. Residents were randomly selected from a database of listed Anne Arundel County households, and were asked whether they were residing at their principal residence and were at least 18 years of age. Anne Arundel Community College students were trained to perform all interviews with residents.
For additional information, contact Dan Nataf, Director, Center for the Study of Local Issues (410) 541-2733.
1.0 What do you think is the most important problem facing the residents of Anne Arundel County at the present time?
DON'T READ THE LIST BELOW - Let the respondent volunteer an answer, check off the box that comes closest to it or write it in "Other answer."
2.0 Overall, would you say that the County is headed in the right direction or in the wrong direction?
54% Right direction
27% Wrong direction
19% Unsure or dont know
2.1 Regarding the Countys property tax cap, do you think the tax cap hurts the ability of the County to provide high quality services to its citizens?
30% Yes 50% No 20%Dont Know, No Answer
2.2 If the County needed additional funds to maintain services, would you support any of the following? (In percent)
3.0 I am going to read you a list of problems facing the County. Please tell me how well you think the County has dealt with these problems over the last year. Has the problem gotten better, stayed about the same, or gotten worse? (In percent)
We would like your opinion on a set of issues affecting Anne Arundel County.
4.0 The construction of Arundel Mills, a large new mall near the intersection of Routes 100 and 295 has begun. On balance, do you think that commercial developments like Arundel Mills will be a positive or a negative factor for Anne Arundel County in the coming years?
15% Don't know or unsure
4.1 This year, the County Council passed a resolution supporting the study of the replacement of the current convention system of selecting school board members with an elected school board. Do you support or oppose an elected school board?
16% Don't know or unsure
5.0 Next, we are interested in better understanding how Anne Arundel residents affect the local economy through their buying habits. When I read you a list of shopping activities, please indicate where you are most likely to purchase the following goods and services. (In percent)
6.0 Generally how would you rate the availability of goods and services at a reasonable price in Anne Arundel County: excellent, good, fair or poor.
6.1 When considering where to shop, do you place any special importance on shopping at locally owned stores rather than larger chains?
6.2 If yes, to what extent are any of the following reasons why you place special importance on shopping at locally owned stores:
We are almost done. The last few questions will help us to better understand your responses.
58% Yes 42% No N=420
itical party are you affiliated?
43% Democratic 11% None
34% Republican 1% Other
10% Independent N=404
10.2 Did you vote in last year's County Executive election between John Gary and Janet Owens or did you not vote?
62% Yes, voted
38% No, didn't vote
12.0 I am going to read some categories of age classifications. Please stop me when I reach the category in which your age falls.
12% 18 to 29
35% 30 to 44
35% 45 to 59
18% 60 or more
13.0 I am going to read some categories relating to education. Please stop me when I reach the category in which the highest level of your formal education falls.
3% less than a high school degree
20% a high school degree
38% some college or a two-year degree
23% completed college with a bachelors degree
16% post graduate work
14.0 I am going to read some categories relating to income. Please stop me when I reach the category in which your household income falls.
15% Less than $30,000
26% $30,000 to $50,000
26% $50,000 to $75,000
16% Over $100,000
15.0 Regarding race, how would you describe yourself?
3% Other racial background
16.0 What is your current marital status?
22% Single 62% Married 1% Separated 9% Divorced 7% Widowed 0% Other N=416
42% Male 58% Female N=429