Prince George’s County, MD
This report summarizes the findings drawn from 800 telephone interviews with likely voters in Prince George's County. This poll, conducted on behalf of the Prince George's Business-Education Alliance, is the latest in a series of surveys conducted by Potomac Incorporated in communities across Maryland to measure and track public opinion on a variety of topical issues.
The focus of this survey is education, particularly impressions of the public school system. What we find is an electorate that is deeply concerned, if not almost preoccupied, with improving public-school education in the county. For example, when asked in an open-ended way to name the top issue facing the county, almost one-half the voters volunteer “education” or “schools.” No other issue comes close. Crime or public safety are mentioned by only one-fifth of voters. Jobs, taxes, and the region’s crushing traffic each rate only a five percent mention.
Voters in Prince George's County rate their school system the lowest of any major jurisdiction in Maryland outside of Baltimore City. The highest grade voters give for any of nine specific public school attributes is only a C-plus. When asked for their policy prescription to fix this, voters seem to be looking for smaller class sizes, better-paid and more qualified teachers, and a closer involvement by parents in the affairs of the public schools. The sexy 1990s solution of putting computers in all the classrooms seems to have run its course, with only two percent of voters thinking that is the way to improve public schools. Standardized tests have both their proponents and certainly their opponents. In fact, the very mention of testing is polarizing; equal numbers see such tests as either "extremely important" or having "serious drawbacks," with more than nine voters in ten having an opinion on the issue.
In terms of perceptions, the new appointed school board has made absolutely no headway with voters. Only one voter in seven believes the new board is doing a better job than its predecessors, about the same number who believe the old elected board actually did a better job. Three-quarters of voters see the two boards performing at the same level or have no view.
Adequate funding for schools is of course the perennial question. In different ways throughout the survey, voters indicate that they would like to see more funding for public schools. A majority even indicates that it would be willing to have a new tax imposed if it were dedicated to education. Prince George's Community College is seen as under-funded by most voters, and when voters discover that the county provides less funding to the community college than do neighboring jurisdictions, three-quarters want more local funding.
Of course, TRIM always looms in the background. Fewer than six voters in ten say they have actually heard of the tax cap measure, even when specifically prompted with its name. Of course, recognition rises dramatically among longer-term residents of the county. But despite its less-than-universal name recognition, the concept of a TRIM-style tax cap receives support from two-thirds of voters. Four voters in ten say they "strongly favor" such a tax. Support for TRIM is mitigated if the idea of repealing or modifying TRIM is tied to addressing "the many critical needs of our schools." Now, a bare plurality of five percent think TRIM should be repealed or modified. Though this is a modest result, it represents a huge swing away from initial support for TRIM and demonstrates the power of the education issue in Prince George's County.
The other fact that must be taken into account is the deep voter cynicism regarding the handling of public funds by elected officials. Although a majority would support a special tax dedicated to schools, an astonishing two-thirds of all voters believe such a dedicated revenue stream would never make its way to schools, but would be diverted for other pressing priorities. Despite their initial willingness to support school funding, voters are much less likely to actually vote for such a funding measure in light of this tremendous skepticism.
As for Thornton, it does not have wide name recognition in the county, with only one-fourth of voters even having heard of it. Nonetheless, a 12-point plurality would like to see full funding of Thornton, "even if other state programs have to be cut."
Finally, off the topic of public schools, on a series of quality of life ratings county residents place their jurisdiction significantly lower than its neighbors as a place to live. Public schools are rated the lowest of the five ideas tested, with shopping next. All of this just points to a serious image problem – not just for the schools, but for the county as a whole.
Potomac Incorporated periodically surveys communities throughout the region on public issues. This survey of Prince George's County voters is the latest in that series. For this survey, a total of 800 Prince George's County registered voters were interviewed by telephone June 17-24, 2003.
Margin of Sampling Error
According to customary statistical standards, this countywide sample produces a maximum margin of sampling error of ± 3.5% at a 95% confidence level. This means that, 95 percent of the time, the “true” figure would fall within this range if every registered voter in the county had been interviewed. For smaller subgroups of the overall sample, the potential sampling error is larger. Margin of sampling error is only one of many potential sources of error in this or any other public opinion survey. The practical difficulties of conducting any survey of public opinion introduce other sources of error into the study. Variations in question wording or the order of the questions, for instance, can lead to somewhat different results.
Potomac constructed this sample of voters from the most recently updated voter file provided by the Prince George's County Board of Elections. In matters of public issues, the use of such a voter file is preferred because it ensures the exclusion of residents who are not registered to vote, which largely precludes their participation in the political process. Furthermore, for this survey a likely voter selection criterion was used. From the overall pool of registered voters, individuals were selected as potential interview subjects if they had voted in the most recent presidential general election (2000), or if they had registered to vote since that election.
To ensure that a valid sample was achieved in each of the nine County Council districts, the overall voter file was then stratified by district. Within each district, Potomac randomly drew individuals to be interviewed using an “every nth” selection methodology. That is, each district file was sorted, and voters were selected at a specific interval moving across the entire district file.
The resulting list of randomly-selected likely voters was telephone matched by a commercial vendor. Though telephone match rates varied district by district, on average about 60% of the eligible names were successfully matched with a telephone number. Potomac further developed sampling goals by gender.
Professionally trained and supervised callers completed the telephone interviews from a central calling facility in Windsor, Nova Scotia, using computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) capability. Callers were continually monitored for quality and accuracy. Supervisors called back at least 10% of respondents to confirm the veracity of the interviews.
Calls were made between 5:00 and 9:15 p.m. weeknights, 10:00 and 8:00 p.m. Saturday, and 1:00 and 9:15 p.m. Sunday, Eastern time. Potential respondents were screened to ensure that they did not work for the Prince George's County public schools and that they did intend to vote in the next general election. The survey averaged 15 minutes in length, with a 75% incidence. A total of 13,413 dialings were made to achieve the 800 completed interviews.
The stratified sampling approach produced valid samples in each of the nine districts, but simply aggregating those 800 interviews would not produce an accurate picture of the countywide general electorate. To bring the countywide sample into balance, the survey data were weighted. The initial round of weighting corrected for the differences in voter turnout across the county. Each of the 18 sampling cells discussed above was given its proper weight based on its share of the countywide turnout in a typical election. The racial breakdown was then balanced with a set of overlay weights. The resulting countywide sample is an accurate reflection of Prince George's County general election voters.
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