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Tupper Lakers rated quality of life high, job prospects low in survey last year

Park Street is the heart of Tupper Lake’s business district. When about 150 Tupper Lake residents responded to a survey from SUNY Potsdam last year, half disagreed with the statement, “In a few years we’ll have more good jobs around here.” (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — The results of a survey done by SUNY Potsdam students in spring 2018 have been released, and political science professor Robert Hinkley, who organized it, said he hopes the 21-question project spawns more surveys of the Tri-Lakes area, especially Tupper Lake.

Results showed that while many village residents rate their quality of life as being good, the majority do not have high hopes as far as the job market goes.

Hinckley, who is also the chairman of Potsdam’s department of politics, said the survey was not geared toward acquiring data for any specific purpose outside of showing that it is a feasible endeavor. He said it was a “proof of concept” that more surveys can be successful and inexpensive in the Tupper Lake region.

When the survey was distributed in April 2018, Hinkley said this was the first questionnaire distributed in an Adirondack Park village. Surveys in the past had been distributed in Watertown, Potsdam or Malone,

“We don’t have any particular plans (for the data) at this point,” Hinkley said. “What we were hoping to do was to demonstrate that at a reasonable cost that we can do high-quality survey data collection from a place that’s largely under-served.”

He said it is good for residents and community leaders to have data to base their decisions on and that Tupper Lake, and the Adirondacks in general, are under-served in that matter.

Methods

The study was conducted by political science students from methods, survey research, and state and local government courses.

The survey was conducted through mailers sent to 500 households and got a 28% response rate. The number of respondents, 147, fell just short of the 150 minimum goal Hinkley said he wanted in April 2018.

Hinkley said that the survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 8%. That’s fairly wide, but he said this is OK for their purposes.

“We’re not trying to predict an election,” Hinkley said.

Despite not hitting the goal of 150 responses, Hinkley said he still considered the survey a success. With a $1,800 budget, the cost per completed survey factored out to $12, which made it relatively inexpensive.

“This is a period of rapid change in survey research. The old telephone surveys that we used to rely on … simply aren’t really doing the job anymore,” Hinkley said. “What we were doing here as sort of ‘proof of concept’ was that mail surveys, as old-fashioned as they might sound, are actually getting much better response rates.”

He said telephone surveys usually garner a response rate of 8 to 9%.

The largest category of respondents to this survey (34.7%) was over 65 years old, with each younger demographic decreasing in response rate from the one just older.

“The overall survey matched American Community Survey (ACS) estimates of the Village of Tupper Lake residents in terms of age, gender and education,” Hinkley wrote in an email.

Results

The first question on the mailer asks Tupper Lakers to rate the overall quality of life in the village. More than a two-thirds majority — 68% — rated it good to excellent, 20% rated it not good to poor, and 12% were unsure.

An either/or question on whether residents wanted to cut taxes or keep services had 39.5% choose cutting taxes and 43.5% choose keeping services, with 10.9% unsure.

Trust in the town and village of Tupper Lake were nearly identical, with single-digit differences between the varying levels of trust, while trust in the state Adirondack Park Agency trended lower and trust in the federal government trended high.

When asked if they agreed with the statement, “In a few years we’ll have more good jobs around here,” approximately 15% agreed or strongly agreed, and approximately 50% disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Hinkley said prior surveys in Malone, Potsdam and Massena showed tax rates and access to village services shaped views on village quality of life, but in Tupper Lake quality-of-life views were only associated with the perception of future job growth.

“Residents who agreed that there will be more good area jobs in the future were twice as likely to rate quality of life as good, very good or excellent as compared to those who disagreed that future job growth was likely,” Hinkley wrote in an email. “Perceived quality of village life was not related to views on village taxes, services, schools or any individual traits, including gender, age, income or education.”

Hinkley said in national politics there has been a recent trend of partisan affiliation to shape perceptions of job growth and the strength of the economy. He wrote that starting during the Obama presidency, the party in the White House was more likely than the other major party to believe the economy was doing well, regardless of what numbers appeared in economic reports.

“In Tupper Lake, during the spring of 2018, we saw this tendency reproduced to some extent,” Hinkley wrote. “Village of Tupper Lake residents who agreed that ‘Trump is a strong leader’ were especially likely to believe that more good jobs will be available in the future.”

Of the respondents, 21.8% identified as Democratic, 29.9% as Republican, and 27.9% did not identify with a party.

“Democratic optimists about future job growth in our survey were mainly those who had great confidence in government institutions.” Hinkley wrote. “This is perhaps not surprising given the proportion of Franklin County residents who work in the government sector.”

Nearly 50% said they earned $50,000 or more annually, with the four lower salary categories splitting up the other half of the results.

He said while civic engagement is declining nationwide, over half of residents said they were involved in some nonpartisan community group. However, there are some obstacles to more people getting involved, including a lack of information.

“Many village residents are engaged in the civic life of Tupper Lake and the larger region,” Hinkley wrote. “More than 55% report being a member of one or more community groups, which includes a range of community or religious service organizations and charity groups.

“Residents also report facing a number of obstacles to becoming more civically engaged. The most common reasons cited are family obligations (35%) and working long hours (34%). About 21% feel that they lack sufficient information about volunteer opportunities, which could potentially be addressed by reaching this group online, as they tend to be people between 25-45 and are frequent users of social media.”

Respondents were asked where they get information about local events or meetings. Newspapers were the most frequent answer, with 73.5% selecting that option, followed by word of mouth (62.6%), local television, (49%), social media (43.5%), web sites (32.3%) and local radio (15.6%).

Hinkley said he hopes this is the first of many studies in the area. He wants to increase part-time resident input, which he felt was lacking in this survey.

He said several of his students have gone on to work with public polling firms in Washington and that while there are not plans for another Tupper Lake survey currently, he hopes this one has opened the door for more to come.

The study was put on with collaboration from Jack McGuire, Potsdam’s interim director of research and sponsored programs and an associate professor of politics. Its $1,800 cost was supplied by a grant endowed by alum Robert Hill (Class of 1977) through the Lougheed Center for Applied Learning, as well as the Potsdam Institute for Applied Research.

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