LOWVILLE — There’s no consensus among Lewis County residents about allowing people to smoke marijuana legally, but the majority are convinced farmers should be able to grow it and get a piece of the financial pie legalization can provide.

At least that’s what the 14th annual Lewis County Survey of the Community performed by the Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College found, and since the survey takers also determined “polling is not broken,” it’s true.

“Once every four years we get a chance to test: ‘Is our methodology working?’” Center Research Director Joel LaLone said while presenting survey results to the Lewis County Board of Legislators before their virtual March meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Using the presidential election as an indicator of their accuracy, Mr. LaLone said he and his group asked respondents who they would vote for if the election was the day they were surveyed.

The center team made predictions based on those responses which were within the margin of error of the final vote counts after absentee ballots were counted.

“Whatever it is you want us to study, we’re confident that there isn’t some inherent bias because we’ve had this chance to test our methodology,” he said.

So when the surveyors found that 54% of residents show strong support for “allowing farmers to grow and profit” from the potential new marijuana industry in the state with 32% opposed, they were confident in those numbers.

The sale of legalized marijuana had equal support and opposition at 32% each.

Performing the survey during a pandemic presented a new set of challenges to that methodology, but Mr. LaLone said they were able to create a “virtual call center” that worked so well it’s likely to become standard for their surveys going forward.

New for the 2020 survey was a COVID-specific section which showed that Lewis County Public Health is alone in having increased resident satisfaction with their COVID-19 response efforts since an April 2020 survey performed by that department asking county residents their perceptions of the virus and the response to it.

In April, 78% of respondents were satisfied with the county agency’s performance and in this survey, 82% approved.

In contrast, satisfaction with the novel coronavirus response from the U.S. Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped from 67% to 61%; now former President Donald J. Trump and the federal government toppled from 62% to 56%; and the state Department of Health and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo descended from 55% to 43% approval in the county.

In year-over-year question monitoring, more county residents rated their quality of life as “excellent” or “good” this year than last, up to 78% from 74%, but only 49% of survey takers said they feel the county is heading in the right direction compared to 61% in 2019. On the national level, 32% approve of the nation’s trajectory.

Even though there has been a slight decrease in resident satisfaction with some local factors, for instance the environment and the quality of education K-12, a significant majority of respondents, 86% and 78% respectively, say these things are excellent in the county.

The availability of jobs was rated as excellent by only 25%, and 37% of participants said the overall state of the economy was excellent in 2020.

Questions surrounding politically charged community and societal issues have been asked for the past three years and the answers have remained stable. They illustrate that while the county is generally conservative, opinions are chosen out of personal values rather than along party lines.

While 75% of participants agree individuals have a constitutional right to own guns that should not be impacted by laws like the state’s SAFE Act and 64% indicated Mr. Trump was “good for our country,” 68% acknowledge “systemic racism and social injustice are major problems in our country that need to be addressed,” 61% said that science has concluded that humans contribute to climate change and that romantically involved same-sex adults are “all right.”

Just over half of respondents indicated women have the right to choose abortion and that the right should be protected at 54%, and 53% agreed that health care — because it’s society’s responsibility — should be provided by the government to all people.

A plurality of respondents, 44%, self-describe themselves as “middle of the road.” Conservatives made up 34% of the responding group and 12% identified as liberal.

Mr. LaLone lauded the 474 people who participated in the survey in Lewis County as an exceptional response rate considering the total population of about 27,000, of which about 20,000 were eligible to participate as adults, as an indicator of a high level of engagement for county residents.

Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties were surveyed in October and presentations will be made to the Jefferson County Board of Legislators later in March and the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators in April.

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