Combined JCC survey says locals welcoming

Dreamstime

WATERTOWN — North country residents are welcoming, supportive and interested in investing in their communities, according to the latest survey from Jefferson Community College’s Center for Community Studies.

On Tuesday, the center released its first North Country Current Issues Survey, which asked 1,457 residents in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties their opinions across 35 questions relating diversity, community services and issues, local government, the economy and employment. The margin of error is 3.1% in either direction for each regional metric, and ranges from 4.9% to 5.7% in either direction for the county-specific metrics.

Joel F. LaLone, director of the Center for Community Studies and a professor of mathematics at JCC, said the combined survey happened much more quickly, and on a much wider scale than the center’s usual county-level surveys.

“We would collect data in Lewis County, for example every year in October, but then wouldn’t roll the results out to the community until March,” he said.

That delay caused problems this year, when data from October 2021 was reported in March. Questions asked of respondents before the omicron surge of the coronavirus pandemic swept the north country — leading to one of the worst periods of infection and death the region has seen in the pandemic — were finally reported after the surge had already ended.

“We rolled out the results in March and we were almost at the end of omicron,” Mr. LaLone said. “So we said, ‘Alright, it’s time we stepped up and did what (research organizations) Pew, Siena, Ipsos does, and lets do it quickly.’”

The Center for Community Studies, with its three professors working on the project part time and 60 students conducting research, began asking questions on April 12, and turned it all around with a full report and analysis in three weeks.

“That’s a very quick turnaround, the fastest in the 23 years,” he said. “Other polling agencies have done similar sample size surveys in roughly the same timeframe, but they have 18,000 employees.”

Mr. LaLone said the 60 students who participated in this research were integral to its success. Many of them are native to the counties and communities they were studying, and Mr. LaLone said having regional residents asking the questions was a major benefit.

The questions and issues for the survey were generated by consulting with JCC staff and students, local government officials, county leadership, news outlets, nonprofit agency heads and experts in local education and health care.

Mr. LaLone said this year’s survey, which combines results from the three counties into one unified report for the first time, provided intriguing insights into the nature of the region’s residents.

Overwhelmingly, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties are politically conservative. All three have at least twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats. However, on issues that typically see a partisan divide, public opinion overwhelmingly trended in the more liberal direction.

According to the survey results, 61% of residents in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties agree that programs fostering diversity, equity and inclusion would benefit the region. A majority of respondents, 75%, said they are welcoming to LGBTQ people, and 76% of residents said they want to see Ukrainian refugees welcomed into their communities Northern New York.

Nearly half, 46% of residents said they believe racism is a major issue that needs to be addressed in Northern New York. More than half, 56% of people, said they would support a homeless shelter in their own neighborhood, and 69% said they would like to see their county government pay for it.

Regional opinion seemed to trend away from inclusivity on transgender female athletes competing on women’s teams in high school or college. More than half, 63% of respondents agreed that trans women should not be permitted to compete against cisgender women in sports.

When it comes to the role of local government, 71% of residents in the three counties said they believe local elected officials should govern independently of their political affiliation, while only 9% said they believe political affiliation should be an important part of a local official’s job.

Overall, 53% of people said they believe local governments at the village, town and county levels are doing a good job, while only 27% of people said they think the state government is doing a good job.

While many people in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties identify with either the conservative or liberal side of the political spectrum, other residents in each county identify as “middle of the road.” In both St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties, 40% of respondents identified as centrists.

Only 30% of Jefferson County residents identified as conservative or very conservative, while 15% identified as liberal or very liberal. In St. Lawrence County, 29% identified as conservative or very conservative, and 17% identified as liberal or very liberal.

In Lewis County, 43% of people identified as conservative or very conservative, and only 12% identified as liberal or very liberal, while 38% said they were centrists.

Mr. LaLone said that it’s significant that even in a majority-conservative county like Lewis County, 65% of respondents said they’re welcoming of LGBTQ people, and 51% agreed that there needs to be more diversity, equity and inclusion of other cultures in the region.

“I think there are plenty of folks who, because of a lack of unilaterally identifying with a platform or a party, they tend to look at and think more independently,” Mr. LaLone said. “They’re not uncomfortable saying they’re pro-Second Amendment and at the same time pro-choice, whereas those positions would not be seen at either extreme of the liberal-conservative continuum.”

The survey also asked about issues related to current affairs and issues that have been on the minds of local residents, like gas prices, food availability, inflation, emergency medical services and child care.

About 75% of local residents said gas prices are having a serious impact on their financial situation, 77% said inflation has forced them to change spending habits, and 39% said their family occasionally has difficulty affording food.

Most people, 70% said they have seen a shortage in local EMS volunteers, and 54% said there isn’t enough high-quality, affordable child care available in the region.

The Current Issues Survey is available in its entirety at wdt.me/YwwGro.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

I write about north country politics, Jefferson County and the northern shoreline towns of Lyme, Cape Vincent, Clayton and Alexandria Bay

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