Voters thoughts on county jobs and economy, teachers pay and more
ST. MARYS CITY, Md. (November 18, 2014)The 2014 Exit Poll conducted in St. Marys County by St. Marys College of Maryland suggests this was a contradictory election. Of the voters polled, 65% affirmed that St. Marys County is on the right track, 65% rated the performance of the county commissioners as good or satisfactory over the past four-year term, and 54% think that St. Marys County is a good place to start and run a business. These positive opinions contradict local voter action, where numerous incumbents were voted out of office.
Funding schools and education (22%) and taxes (23%) were statistically tied as the most important issue facing St. Marys County, each selected almost twice as often as all but one of the other six choices. Affordable housing (15%) was the distant third most important issue.
The survey found overwhelming agreement that county K-12 teachers are underpaid. This is not a partisan issue: 85% of Democrats, 67% of Republicans, and 65% of Independents think that teachers are underpaid or severely underpaid. Most of the 24% who stated teachers are paid fairly are older Republican and Independent White non-Hispanic males who also believe the most important issue facing the county is taxes, that global warming is not a threat to county waterfront property, and that the county is not a good place to retire, likely because they also tend to think property taxes are high or very high.
Jobs and Economy
While 74% of respondents agreed that St. Marys County property tax rates are very high or high, 61% think it will be three to six years before property values fully recover, with 32% being more pessimistic and 14% believing it will take more than 10 years to recover. Consequently, public perception seems pessimistic about the economy for at least the near future and few believe that there is much opportunity to grow the property tax base to the relief of property tax rates. Reality is different from the perception, said St. Marys College economics expert Asif Dowla. Speaking about the national economy, Dowla says that the economy grew 3.5% in the last quarter and the national employment rate has come down quite rapidly over the last few quarters. Unemployment presently stands at 5.8%its lowest level in six years and slightly below the average (5.83%) for 1948 to 2014. Of voters, 57% to 43% favored economic growth over economic diversity as more important for the countys long-term economic stability.
Nearly one-third (27%) thought the most important factor describing the relationship St. Marys County has with the Patuxent River Naval Air Station is that the countys economy is too dependent upon the base. A solid third (34%) more predictably chose the base provides jobs as the countys largest employer, while the remaining third (28%) focused more on the overall patriotic mission, selecting that the county and base work together for the good of the county and the nation.
Only 34% of respondents think St. Marys County is a good place to retire. Deeper analysis reveals that by a wide margin of two-to-one voters of retirement age say St. Marys County is a good place to retire versus voters aged 25 to 64 saying by a two-to-one margin that it is not. Statistical testing confirmed that responses to the retirement question are not significantly independent from respondents age. Those of retirement age make up a much smaller proportion of the voting population than younger demographic age groups.
Only two percent thought that the environment was the most important issue. Other environmental questions found that 27% of voters believe that fracking should not be allowed in the county because its bad for the environment, compared to 18% who think it should be allowed because its good for the economy. These responses are both on top of another 14% who said yes or no and are consistent with findings for a similar question asked about Marylands fracking moratorium in the state-wide poll conducted last spring. All parties to this high-stakes question are likely to appeal to the remaining third of voters (27% presently in the county, 34% state-wide last April) who are unsure about whether fracking should be allowed in the county and in Maryland.
After observing the heated public outcry over the law requiring new housing developments of five or more units to hook up to sewer lines connected to a waste treatment plant rather than installing septic systems, St. Marys College political expert Todd Eberly said he was surprised to see that so many in the county support this law (41% say yes and another 15% okay).
Lastly, 39% do not believe that private and public waterfront properties are threatened by global warming, while only 26% believe that they are. About a third (35%) of the voters polled remain undecided over this polarizing issue.
Quality of Life
The Exit Poll suggests that, outside of the budgetary crisis negatively impacting schools, pessimism about future property values, and related dissatisfaction about local (property) taxes, none of which are unique to the locale, St. Marys voters seem to appreciate the quality of life in the county. More than half (54%) think that parks and recreation sports facilities and programs are above average compared to 7% who rate them below average. Seventy-eight percent plan at least one visit during the next year to Historic St. Marys City and St. Clements Island Museums, with 72% affirming the important /very important role of the countys museums in the local economy. Again, the majority think the county is a good place to start and run a business, is headed in the right direction, and most people of retirement age seem happy to live in the county.
About the Poll
The Exit Poll was of a random sample of 955 persons who voted in St. Marys County on Election Day. The poll was conducted independently of the state and county Boards of Elections. About 40 St. Marys College students as well as community volunteers administered the printed survey of 42 questions. The margin of error for any question asked is 3.7% or less at a 95% confidence interval. More details including the Exit Polls top line report, questions asked, cross tabs, additional graphics, and methodology are posted on http://www.mpoll.org.
More thorough analysis is ongoing and a final 2014 Election Project Report is planned for late January.