LINCOLN, Neb. -- Rural Nebraskans are feeling better about their communities and, by growing numbers, even those who think they may move in the next year plan to stay in the state, according to the 2006 Nebraska Rural Poll.

The 11th annual University of Nebraska-Lincoln poll asked respondents a series of questions about their feelings toward their communities, their satisfaction with services and whether they plan to move in the next year.

Surveys were mailed in March to about 6,200 randomly selected households in Nebraska's 84 rural counties. Results are based on 2,482 responses.

The proportion of rural Nebraskans who say they've seen positive change in their communities has increased over the last three years -- from 22 percent in 2003, the lowest figure recorded in the poll's history, to 32 percent in this year's poll. That three-year increase follows a seven-year period of general decline in rural Nebraskans' perception of positive things happening in their towns.

"This really does appear to be a trend," UNL rural sociologist Randy Cantrell, who works on the poll, said of rural Nebraskans' improved outlook.

Twenty-three percent of respondents to this year's poll said they've seen negative change in their communities; 45 percent said they saw no change.

Bruce Johnson, a UNL agricultural economist, said rural Nebraskans' increasingly positive view of their communities might be tied to troubling news developments elsewhere in the world.

"People look at what's going on and say, 'hey, this is a pretty good place to be,'" Johnson said.

Rural Nebraskans are bullish about their communities in a variety of areas. Seventy-three percent consider their towns friendly, 62 percent trusting and 65 percent supportive.

Many rural Nebraskans also are sentimental about their communities. Sixty-nine percent agreed with the statement, "my community is very special to me." About two-thirds agreed with the statement, "I feel I can really be myself in my community."

The poll found some differences between residents of smaller communities and those who live in or near larger towns, said Dave Peters, another rural sociologist who helps with the poll. For example, 39 percent of persons in or near communities with populations of 10,000 or more believe their community changed for the better, compared to 24 percent of those who are in or near communities with populations below 500.

On the other hand, residents of smaller communities are more likely than those in larger towns to rate their communities as friendly, trusting and supportive. They also seem to be more attached to their communities. Forty-six percent of residents in or near towns with populations below 500 agreed with the statement that "no other place can compare to my community." About 27 percent of persons who live in or near communities with populations of 5,000 or more agreed with that.

Rural Nebraskans also are generally satisfied with basic community services and amenities, the poll shows. Satisfaction rates included: fire protection, 88 percent; emergency care services, 76 percent; parks and recreation, 76 percent; library services, 75 percent; religious organizations, 74 percent; basic medical care services, 73 percent; highways and bridges, 70 percent; and K-12 education, 70 percent.

However, rural Nebraskans are less satisfied in other areas. Forty-three percent expressed dissatisfaction with entertainment options, 39 percent with retail shopping, 37 percent with local government and 34 percent with restaurants.

Not surprisingly, the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources specialists said, there are some significant differences in some of these categories among demographic groups. For example, 56 percent of persons between 19 and 39 expressed dissatisfaction with entertainment in their communities, while only 27 percent of those 65 and older were dissatisfied.

Also, they said, it's not surprising that the poll found that 71 percent of people who've lived in their community for more than five years considered their town very special to them, compared to 51 percent of those who've lived there less than five years.

On the question of moving on, the percentage of people planning to leave their community over the next year has remained relatively stable over the past nine years; only 5 percent this year said they plan to move. However, the expected destination for people planning to move has changed over the last three years -- with the percentage of those expecting to leave Nebraska decreasing and the percentage of those planning to move to the Lincoln or Omaha areas increasing.

Of the small percentage of respondents who said they're planning to move in the next year, 22 percent said they plan to move to Omaha or Lincoln; that's up from just 7 percent in 2004 and 12 percent last year who cited one of Nebraska's two biggest cities as destinations. The proportion of respondents who say they plan to leave the state decreased from 56 percent in 2004 to 47 percent in 2005 to 39 percent this year.

"People are saying, 'I might have to move to get a better job, but I want to stay in the state,'" Cantrell said.
The Rural Poll is the largest annual poll of rural Nebraskans' perceptions on quality of life and policy issues. This year's response rate was about 40 percent.

The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent. Complete results are available online.

The university's Center for Applied Rural Innovation conducts the poll in cooperation with the Rural Initiative and Public Policy Center with funding from the Partnership for Rural Nebraska and UNL Extension and the Agricultural Research Division in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

SOURCE: University of Nebraska news release.