Citizen survey shows increase in partisanship

Most people want to keep Tri-County, sales tax

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For the first time, the biggest indicator of how residents answered questions in the Douglas County public opinion survey is the political party of the respondent.

The survey, which is administered every two years by a professional public opinion surveyor, also showed that most people supported remaining with Tri-County Health and extending the county's special sales and use tax, and that many are generally satisfied with the local government.

The company that has conducted this survey since 2006, Hill Research, used a sample of about 1,900 active voters and weighted the results by respondents' age, gender, geography, party registration, education and income. The weights, which are routinely done in surveys and ensure that the responses reported are proportionate to the county's demographic makeup, are determined using voter registration and U.S. Census data.

“We didn't have to do much weighting,” Hill said. “A vast number of people chose to participate in this.” 

The results of the survey are available on the Douglas County website by visiting douglas.co.us/transparency.

Health department feedback

Results showed that 60% of respondents said they felt that it was a “good idea” for the county to be a part of Tri-County Health. 

The question began with an initial statement: “As you may know, most counties in Colorado have their own Health Departments. Douglas County, however, shares Tri-County Health Department with Adams and Arapahoe Counties,” according to a copy of the questionnaire.

Two responses were provided and survey respondents were asked which is closest to their own opinion. One option read: “Some people say a shared department is a good idea because it may save on overhead and free up more resources for needed public health programs and services.”

The alternate option was: “Other people say the three counties are too different and too spread apart for effective delivery of public health programs and services that too few people use,” according to the document.

About 38% of those polled agreed with the second option, voicing support of Douglas County having its own health department. About 1% had no opinion, according to the results.

Hill, the research consultant, said he believes the reason the majority of people spoke in favor of the combined health department is because they're not informed on the issue and because it's a choice that represents staying the same rather than changing.

“Just because someone has an opinion on something doesn't mean it's substantive or thought-out or informed by knowledge,” Hill said. “If I don't know much about something I'll almost always take the status quo.”

Hill said he's basing that on his experience and on the fact that even though more than half of the respondents said they had used health department services in the past month, few could specify which service they used.

Thoughts on special tax

The survey showed bipartisan support for conservation efforts, parks, trails, open space and natural and historical resources, according to a summary of the survey.

The county has a 1% sales tax, which is divided between open space, transportation and the justice center. The open space portion, which makes up 0.17%, is set to expire at the end of 2023.

One of the survey questions asked about this tax and found that 8 in 10 county voters support keeping it. About half of those supporters said they want to see it approved for 15 extra years and the other half said they wanted it approved permanently.

“If (a 15-year extension) were put on the ballot it would pass overwhelmingly in my opinion,” Hill said.

Partisan divide

A partisan divide was prevalent throughout about 80% of the survey, Hill said. That's different than in past surveys.

“This is the first time it (political party) is clearly the driving force,” he said.

Overall, Republicans were more enthusiastic about the direction of the county and its governance and Democrats were less so, Hill said.

One indicator, which asks how the public feels about the general direction of the county, has showed declining approval over the past few surveys. Hill said that could be due to the increase in Democrats in the county and the fact that the county government is entirely run by Republicans.

“It's just very clear that we've got three tribes, Democratic, independent and Republican,” Hill said.

Other than responses on the sales and use tax, there were bipartisan agreements including contentment with the sheriff's office, the clerk and recorder's office, parks and the business environment.

While county commissioners weren't immediately available for interviews about the survey, Commissioner Lora Thomas commented on the results in a May 11 meeting when the board was discussing going up against a state mask mandate, which has since been lifted.

“The first time since we've been doing these surveys it was clear that our citizens are tired of the politics that are coming out in the decisions that are being made,” she said.

County sentiment

Overall, sentiment about county staff and services is positive, according to the results. However over the past few surveys, there have been decreases in satisfaction in areas such as roads, transportation, vehicle registration and county government, according to a slideshow, which was provided to commissioners by the research company.

“I would say a big overarching conclusion to me that is interesting is despite the pandemic … for most indicators, things are relatively stable,” said David Hill, the head research consultant with the company that administered the survey.

One area that showed improvement since the last survey in 2019 was traffic, according to the results.

Methodology

Hill Research used several methods to gain the insights from the survey.

They used an online platform and phone calls to contact the respondents. For the first time, the county also used a “probability sample,” which selects a group of randomly chosen households to send an advertisement for the survey.

“This is state of the art for public research these days,” Hill said.

More than 80% of survey respondents came from an online link, with 75% of those responses being self-selected, or not randomized participants. Hill said that this group did still end up being largely representative of the county's demographics and it was also weighted to ensure that.

The margin of error for the total sample size is plus or minus 2.3%.

Hill notes that while some polling services, particularly those used for national elections, have developed a negative reputation, he sees his service as different. That's in part due to this methodology and the fact that there's not an upcoming election, when people are sometimes less interested in responding to surveys.

“A key thing to remember is that we are taking these extra steps that are not always taken to reach voters in a channel that they want to be reached in,” he said.

Links to complete the survey were available on the county website and various social media sites.

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