Rural Nebraskans less positive about communities

Nov 11th, 2009 | By | Category: Campus News, Issue, November 12, 2009

Rural Nebraskans generally are less positive about their communities this year than in the past, according to the 2009 Nebraska Rural Poll.

The 14th annual UNL poll was taken last March and April, a time of great economic uncertainty, poll organizers noted. That uncertainty is reflected in this year’s poll results.

For example, the percentage of people who said their community changed for the better in the last year declined from 30 to 23 percent, which matched 2003 for the lowest in the poll’s history. Twenty-six percent of respondents said their community changed for the worse in the last year, the highest in the poll’s history, and up from 22 percent in 2008.

Rural Poll surveys were mailed to about 6,400 randomly selected households in Nebraska’s 84 non-metropolitan counties. Results are based on 2,852 responses.

Most respondents continue to see their communities as good places to live. Seventy-four percent describe their communities as friendly, 63 percent as trusting and 67 percent as supportive.

Two-thirds said they considered their communities to be “very special to me” and 62 percent agreed that “I feel I can really be myself in my community.”

Also, 52 percent said it would be difficult to leave their community, while 31 percent said it would be easy.

As in past years, positive sentiments about communities tend to be stronger among people who live in smaller towns and among people who are older and who have lived in the community for longer.

“Familiarity gets comfortable,” said Randy Cantrell, rural sociologist with the Nebraska Rural Initiative.

Poll respondents continue to be relatively satisfied with basic community services and amenities. Satisfaction with fire protection, parks and recreation, library services and religious organizations all ranked above 70 percent.

On the other hand, at least one-third of respondents registered dissatisfaction with entertainment, retail shopping, restaurants, streets and roads, arts and cultural activities and local government.

Meantime, dissatisfaction with some services has steadily trended downward over the years.

“One of them that ought to be worrisome is nursing home care,” said UNL public policy specialist Brad Lubben. Satisfaction with nursing home care has dropped from 63 percent in 1997 to 45 percent this year. Lubben noted that satisfaction with senior centers also has dropped, from 66 percent in 1997 to 47 percent in the latest poll.

The decreased satisfaction may stem only in part from an actual decline in quality and/or availability of care, Lubben said. It’s likely that another factor is an increased awareness of senior care needs among an aging population.

In a similar vein, satisfaction with mental health services in rural Nebraska dropped from 34 percent in 1997 to 24 percent in 2009.

On the other hand, there are signs in this year’s Rural Poll that key communications technologies are getting better in rural Nebraska. Satisfaction with cell-phone and Internet service are at 61 percent and 58 percent, up from 49 and 50 percent, respectively, in 2006.

“The technologies of today are apparently improving across nonmetropolitan Nebraska,” said agricultural economist Bruce Johnson.

The Rural Poll is the largest annual poll of rural Nebraskans’ perceptions on quality of life and policy issues. This year’s response rate was about 44 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent. Complete results are available online at

The university’s Center for Applied Rural Innovation conducts the poll in cooperation with the Nebraska Rural Initiative with funding from UNL Extension and the Agricultural Research Division in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

— By Dan Moser, IANR News Service

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