Perspective: How much do we care?

Photo by Dennis Brack
Dennis Brack

Whatever folks make of the Foothills Forum survey, one fact is irrefutable: a lot of residents filled it out.

Special report

• The Foothills Forum survey

Professional pollsters are accustomed to getting fairly low response rates to a survey they mail out. Many folks look at the envelope and throw it aside without even examining the contents.

The pollsters figure that if one person in five reads a survey — 20 percent — and then fills out the answers and mails it in, well, that is a respectable number. At 25 percent, these professionals figure even better. For them, 30 percent is sky high, and cheers all around.

Well, fasten your seatbelt. The people at the Foothills Forum are celebrating a 42 percent return on their survey-by-mail overseen by the University of Virginia’s Center for Survey Research. Yes, more than two-in-five households in Rappahannock County did care enough to take the trouble to answer the questions. Surveys went by postal carrier to more than 3,000 households in Rappahannock. Nearly 1,400 came back. People told the Forum of their hopes and dreams and complaints in a volume that impresses anyone who knows even a little bit about measuring the thoughts of a group of people. The higher the response, the closer the results can be weighted against the U.S. Census to reflect the county’s demographics.

For comparison, here are some more numbers:

* 49 percent of those who responded have lived in Rappahannock for 20 years or more.

For Foothills Forum Chair Larry “Bud” Meyer, the result means that  “we did reach many of the born-here’s as well as the come-here’s.”

What about some other comparisons in Rappahannock?

* Fire and rescue departments across the county regularly send mailings asking for money. They receive, according to Sperryville’s Richie Burke and Amissville’s Jack Atkins, around six to eight percent.

* How about voter turnout? Let’s go to the 2015 election and look at the contest for supervisor in the Hampton District won by John Lesinski. There are 1,193 residents of the Hampton District registered to vote. An impressive 60 percent of them, 718 people, turned out.

Jed Duvall writes for the online paper The Old Rag Gazette and is an advisor to the Foothills Forum.