CSLI Press Release, Fall 1997 Survey

Survey Finds Mass Media Influences Public Perceptions of Crime

The mass media informs the public that crime is a serious issue countywide, but people base their decisions about the importance of many other issues based on personal experiences and discussions, according to a survey recently conducted by the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College.

Less than one-half of the survey’s respondents said crime countywide was a "very serious" issue (39 percent), while 47 percent said it was a "somewhat serious" issue. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said that their impressions were based on the mass media, while only 37 percent mentioned personal experiences or discussions.

By contrast, only 23 percent thought crime was a "very serious" issue within their own community, a decision largely based on personal experiences (71 percent) rather than the mass media (22 percent).

No other issue was as strongly shaped by the media, with "decline in the environment" (29 percent), school overcrowding (19 percent), and "not enough assisted living facilities in your community" (18 percent) being next in line.

Overall the most serious issues confronting the county included: "too much development" (62 percent saying "very serious"), traffic congestion (48 percent), school overcrowding (43 percent), environmental decline (39 percent) and school quality (26 percent).

The Center for the Study of Local Issues also asked respondents to name "the most serious problem facing County residents." "Growth issues surpassed crime for the first time in recent polls," said Dan Nataf, the Center’s Director. Growth, which included traffic, lack of public transportation, overpopulation, and excessive development was cited by 31 percent of the sample, while only 25 percent cited crime. Education was named by 18 percent, with another 11 percent naming taxes.

The survey also posed several questions to parents with children in either public or private County schools. Only 25 percent of the sample had children in public schools, with another seven percent in private schools. Parents generally gave the schools high marks as 78 percent characterized the physical condition of their children’s schools as "good" or "excellent," while 76 percent gave similar marks regarding the quality of instruction.

Parents were also asked whether they attended school events, with 86 percent claiming to have attended at least one event.

Parents were then read a list of possible events that they might have attended. Parents were most likely to attend Open House (74 percent), "Back to School Night" (73 percent), parent-teacher conferences (61 percent) and PTA (Parent-Teachers Associations) or CAC (Citizens Advisory Committees) meetings (53 percent). Parents were about equally likely to serve as a volunteer or chaperone (58 percent). They were somewhat less likely to attend "dramatic, musical or dance productions" (47 percent) or athletic events (43 percent). They were least likely to serve on a school committee (23 percent), attend a special needs conference (20 percent) or to attend a school workshop (17 percent).

Some respondents suggested that schools could increase the chances of parents attending events by earlier notification, better hours, more personal contact, and eliminating charges.

Some tax issues were examined by the CSLI poll. For the last four surveys, respondents have been asked whether the property tax cap had adversely affected the ability of the County to provide services. This poll revealed that 37 percent of the sample agreed, while 46 percent disagreed and 13 percent were unsure. Previous polls showed the percentage agreeing that the tax cap had hurt the provision of services as ranging from 43 percent (spring 1996) to 29 percent (spring 1997). "About one-third of the public has felt that the tax cap has done more harm than good, but a majority tend to favor it," remarked Nataf.

Respondents were told that a $100 million school construction backlog existed, and were presented with two alternatives to generate revenues. Thirty-nine percent agreed with the proposal to "raise the property tax somewhat" to help pay for the schools, while 55 percent objected and six percent were unsure. An alternative proposal to "create special taxing districts which would allow communities within a school feeder to impose a tax upon themselves to upgrade their local schools" was more warmly received, as 50 percent approved, while 41 percent disapproved and nine percent were unsure.

The survey also examined some issues related to medical insurance and satisfaction with medical treatment. Ninety-two percent of the sample was covered by some form of medical insurance: health maintenance organizations (42 percent), preferred provider organizations (21 percent) and traditional insurance (24 percent). Another 12 percent were unsure of the type of medical coverage they possessed.

When respondents were asked why they lacked medical insurance, expense was most cited (44 percent), followed by "employer doesn’t provide" (17 percent), "don’t need" (9 percent), other (17 percent) and unsure (13 percent).

Most respondents (50 percent) were "very satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" (33 percent) with their plans. About two-thirds (61 percent) were "very satisfied" with the quality of the medical treatment received, and with the choice of doctors (65 percent). Under ten percent were "not very satisfied" with either aspect.

When comparing the different types of plans (HMO, PPO, Traditional), there were no statistically significant differences for cost (p=18), quality (p=.15) or choice of doctors (p=.64). HMOs obtained the highest "very satisfied" score for the cost of their insurance (55 percent) compared to PPOs ( 50 percent) or traditional plans (42 percent). By contrast, PPOs fared better regarding quality of treatment (70 percent) compared to traditional insurance (57 percent) or HMOs (56 percent). Traditional plans (71 percent) edged PPOs (63 percent) and HMOs (60 percent) when dealing with the choice of doctors. "Overall, there was a surprising level of agreement that all three forms of medical insurance were performing pretty well, with the vast majority of respondents at least somewhat satisfied," said CSLI’s Nataf.

When asked whether "the current amount of state regulation of health insurance companies and HMOs was about right, too much or too little" the general public was more inclined to say "about right" (32 percent) rather than too much (14 percent) or too little (28 percent), with about a quarter (26 percent) unsure.

There was no statistically significant differences among those in the various plans with respect to this issue (p=.20), although the percentage of those saying there was "not enough" regulation was highest for those in traditional plans (37 percent), compared to PPOs (25 percent) or HMOs (23 percent).

The survey was conducted by the Center for the Study of Local Issues during the week of October 27-30. A total of 385 County residents were polled, with a margin of error of five percent. The error for subgroups is larger. The "p" value generally accepted for asserting the presence of a statistically significant relationship is .05 or less.

For more information about CSLI, call Nataf (410) 541-2733, or visit the CSLI site on the Internet (www.aacc.cc.md.us/ddnataf/csli.html).