This January I have had the pleasure of teaching a class on “local politics” for Centre College’s annual three-week “CentreTerm” where students have the opportunity to engage in a number of high-impact experiential learning activities. We have covered a number of topics ranging from neighborhood design to federal grant activities to local city council politics to school board issues. We were also pleased to have several visitors from our local political community, including Danville Mayor Bernie Hunstad, Boyle Judge-Executive Harold McKinney, Danville Independent School Board Chairwoman Jean Crowley and Superintendent Carmen Coleman, and Boyle Economic Development Partnership representatives Jody Lassiter and Paula Fowler.
WHY DO A COMMUNITY SURVEY?
During the week of January 13th we had the opportunity to attend a number of public meetings, including the Danville City Commission meeting on the 13th, the Boyle County Fiscal Court meeting on the 14th, and the Danville Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on the 15th. We observed in several of these meetings that there were many community members who attended and provided their thoughts and input on a number of the issues currently facing our local community, including the proposed Fairness Ordinance, the proposed “Road Diet,” and how land should be used along the new 2168 connector road in Danville. In our class discussions we noted that while it’s great that there are citizens who are turning out to participate in the local political process by attending these meetings, writing letters to the editor in the local newspaper, and advocating for their positions and interests, it’s possible that these individuals do not represent the overall views of the community at large. Instead, they tend to be the more passionate and intense supporters or opponents of the various issues under discussion.
Given that reality, our Local Politics class partnered up with Prof. Bill Goodman’s “Politics and Journalism in the Age of Social Media” CentreTerm class and set out to obtain a more accurate picture of the views of Danville residents on these various issues. Specifically, we wanted to know what the residents of the community at large think on these issues (in contrast to those of the engaged minority who attend the public meetings and write letters to the editor). We did this by fielding a door-to-door survey to randomly selected Danville households over the course of a week. Conducting this survey required a significant amount of time and effort on the part of our students, who battled tight schedules as well as snow storms and below-freezing temperatures to go door-to-door and gather responses from members of the community. At Centre College we value engaged and experiential learning, as well as community engagement and service learning. This survey project provided students with an excellent opportunity to gain “real-life” experience with public opinion and local politics. It also gave them the opportunity to directly and immediately contribute to important community conversations about matters of public importance.
In our class we also discussed the role that public opinion ought to play in governmental decision-making. There are strong arguments to be made that in a democratic political system (such as ours) political leaders ought to try to carry out the views of the community on matters of public importance. There are, however, also compelling arguments that in a democratic republic (such as ours) public opinion should not always dictate public policy in every instance. Therefore, what our local leaders ultimately choose to do with this information is up to them. We consider it important, however, for there to be as much information as possible in the environment so that local leaders can be as well-informed as possible on the important decisions that they are responsible to decide on.
HOW THE SURVEY WAS CONDUCTED
The households that were surveyed were selected at random to ensure that everyone in the community would have an equal chance to be included in the survey. Random selection ensures that that the results are scientifically valid and representative of the population. Random selection also ensures that we can be confident that the survey results accurately reflect those of the community at large, within a particular margin of error.
Students fielded surveys beginning on Monday, January 20th and ending on Saturday, January 25th. For this survey, a total of 183 Danville residents over the age of 18 choose to participate. Given that the adult population of Danville is approximately 12,500 (as per the U.S. Census Bureau), a randomly-selected sample size of 183 gives us a margin of error of about 7%. (A sample size of 183 is certainly not ideal. It should be noted that sub-optimal temperatures and unpleasant weather this week prevented us from being able to collect more surveys which would have further decreased the margin of error.) In this case, a margin of error of 7% means that we can be very confident (95% confident, to be exact), that the true proportion of people in the community who have a particular opinion is within 7% up or down from the figure that is reported below, or a 14% margin total. In other words, the survey found that about 80% of Danville residents believe that Danville is “on the right track.” Given our sample size and margin of error, we can be 95% confident that the actual percentage of Danville residents who think that Danville is on the right track is somewhere between 73% and 87%. Ultimately, these results from our small sample size will not be able to give us a very precise measure of public opinion on these various questions. They will, however, allow us to give a confident “ballpark” figure within a 14% interval or so. All results reported here should be interpreted with that in mind.
(It should also be noted that these figures should not be directly compared to the results of the last two exit polls [here and here]. This survey sampled all residents in the Danville community while the exit polls sampled only voters throughout Boyle County. These are two different groups and thus can’t be directly compared in a meaningful fashion.)
To produce the household sample, we obtained a list of every residential address within Danville city limits from the county PVA. We then generated a randomized sub-sample of each address and assigned each of our students to distribute surveys to those addresses and only those addresses (this is to maintain the integrity of the random sample). If no one was at home, students were instructed to return to those same addresses up to three times to obtain a response. Students were further instructed to field surveys during the late afternoons/early evenings as well as some morning to try to maximize the amount of responses from households.
These surveys were completely anonymous and it is not possible to link any particular respondent with his or her answers after the survey is collected. Survey respondents were assured that participating was completely voluntary and that they could simply leave blank any question that they did not want to answer.
We also acknowledge the generous assistance of several students from Bill Goodman’s POL 438 “Politics and Journalism in the Age of Social Media” class who fielded dozens of surveys this last week. We also appreciate the contributions of Stephanie Lauderdale who provided several hours administrative assistance in preparing the survey and instruction packets.
A PDF copy of the complete survey questionnaire is available by clicking here.
The exact wording for each question and results of each question are shown below. Important reminder! There is a 7% margin of error associated with all these results unless otherwise indicated. This means that we can be 95% confident that the true proportion of people in the Danville community who have a particular opinion is within 7% up or down from the figure that is reported below.
Generally speaking, do you believe Danville is…?
- Heading in the right direction: 79.8%
- Off on the wrong track: 20.2%
Do you approve or disapprove of the way the following political leaders are handling their job?
- President Barack Obama: 39.8% approve, 60.2% disapprove
- Senator Mitch McConnell: 34.2% approve, 65.8% disapprove
- Senator Rand Paul: 50.3% approve, 49.7% disapprove
- Congressman Brett Guthrie: 50.8% approve, 49.2% disapprove
- Judge-Exec Harold McKinney: 79% approve, 21% disapprove
- Danville Mayor Bernie Hunstad: 50.3% approve, 49.7% disapprove
- Danville City Commission: 68% approve, 32% disapprove
If we limit these responses only to those who report that they “always or nearly always vote,” most of these figures remain substantively unchanged except that Judge McKinney’s approval rating improves to 87.6% and Mayor Hunstad’s declines to 46.9%. (Given the smaller sample size the margin of error rises to about 10%.)
Thinking of the upcoming Kentucky Senate primary race, who do you currently plan to vote for? (JUST WRITE A NAME or “DON’T KNOW”)
- Mitch McConnell: 8.2%
- Matt Bevin: 2.7%
- Alison Grimes: 12.6%
- Don’t know / blank: 76.4%
Below is a list of some definite and some possible candidates running for Danville Mayor this fall. If the election were held today, which ONE candidate would you vote for?
- J.H. Atkins: 16.7%
- Kevin Caudill: 8.7%
- Bernie Hunstad: 6.2%
- Mike Perros: 10.6%
- Paul Smiley: 6.2%
- Paige Stevens: 14.9%
- Undecided: 36%
Limiting these responses only to those who say that they “always or nearly always vote” gives us these results (margin of error 10%): J.H. Atkins: 14.9%, Kevin Caudill: 9.6%, Bernie Hunstad: 5.3%, Mike Perros: 9.6%, Paul Smiley: 5.3%, Paige Stevens: 23.4%, undecided 30.9%.
Recently there has been some discussion about possible changes along the new bypass 2168 connector road in Danville. In general, would you prefer that the land around the new connector road be used primarily for…?
- Agriculture / green space: 66.5%
- Residential housing: 15%
- Commercial development: 18.5%
Recently there has been some consideration of a Danville city ordinance that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation when it comes to housing, employment, or other public accommodations. Would you support or oppose such a measure?
- Strongly support: 51.7%
- Somewhat support: 23.6%
- Somewhat oppose: 8.6%
- Strongly oppose: 16.1%
A reminder that the 7% margin of error means that we can be very confident (95% chance) that the true level of support for the Fairness Ordinance among Danville residents is somewhere between 68.3% and 82.3%.
The only demographic or political variables that consistently predicted opinion on the proposed Fairness Ordinance were ideology, partisanship, church attendance, and religious affiliation. 80.5% of liberals either strongly or somewhat support the proposed Fairness Ordinance while 49.1% of conservatives support. Approximately 89% of Democrats and 90% of Independents support the ordinance while about 60% of Republicans support the ordinance. Those who never attend church sometimes or never are 88.4% in favor of the ordinance while those who attend church once a week or more are only 60.3% in favor. There is also a difference among religious affiliation: 85.7% of Mainline Protestants, 75% of Catholics, and 48.6% of Evangelical Protestants support the Fairness Ordinance. No other demographic or political variables were significant predictors of attitudes on this issue.
How important would the issue described above [the proposed Fairness Ordinance] be to your vote for Mayor / City Commission election this fall?
- Very important: 48%
- Somewhat important: 39.7%
- Somewhat unimportant: 6.7%
- Very unimportant: 5.6%
Among those who see the proposed Fairness Ordinance as either somewhat or very important to their vote this fall, 77.1% either strongly or somewhat support the ordinance and 22.9% either strongly or somewhat oppose.
Thinking about your day yesterday, did you get your news in any of the following ways? (CHECK ALL THAT APPLY)
- Newspaper: 41.8%
- Network news on TV (ABC, CBS, NBC): 59.6%
- Cable news on TV (Fox, MSNBC, CNN, etc.): 42.1%
- Radio: 31.5%
- Traditional news site on computer: 27.1%
- Facebook, Twitter, or other social media site on computer: 34.6%
- News/social media app on a mobile device: 23.2%
Do you consider yourself: Liberal: 24.9%, Moderate: 43.5%, Conservative: 31.6%
Do you think of yourself as a (an): Democrat: 34.8%, Independent, lean Democrat: 10.1%, Independent: 10.7%, Independent, lean Republican: 10.7%, Republican: 28.1%, Other: 5.6%.
Additionally, 52% of survey respondents were female, 48% male; 42% report an income over $50K/year while 10% report an income under $20K/year; 12% report never attending church, 43.2% report attending sometimes, and 44.8% report attending once a week or more; 5.6% report being a “Tea Party supporter; 84.3% report white ethnicity with 11.2% reporting African-American ethnicity; 33% report a high school education, 46.4% report college level of education, and 20.7% report a post-graduate level of education. The age of the average survey respondent is 48 with a range of 18 to 90 years of age.