Poll highlights diversity, optimism in rural Nebraska

LINCOLN, Neb. – Most rural Nebraskans view diversity positively, according to the 2017 Nebraska Rural Poll. Overall, few reported being treated less acceptingly in their community because of race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age or economic status.
In the final batch of findings from this year’s Rural Poll – the largest annual poll of rural Nebraskans’ perceptions on quality of life and policy issues – most respondents say diverse viewpoints add value and feel at ease with people from different backgrounds. Just more than half of those surveyed disagree with the statement that they are afraid to disagree with members of other groups for fear of being called prejudiced.
Just 13 percent of respondents say they have been treated less acceptingly in their community because of economic status. However, nonwhite persons are more likely than white, non-Hispanics to say they have been treated unfavorably because of race or ethnicity. Almost four in 10 nonwhites agree with the statement, compared to 3 percent of white, non-Hispanics.
“I am not surprised that the majority of rural Nebraskans feel like they are treated acceptingly in their community,” said L.J. McElravy, assistant professor of agricultural leadership, education and communication. “In general, Nebraskans have a hospitable culture. However, whether people experience ‘Nebraska nice’ may depend, at least in part, on their race, ethnicity, gender or economic status. Clearly, events are not universally experienced the same way and through the same lens, and obvious signs of discrimination may be masked by the generic nature of social etiquette.”
Rural Nebraskans continue to be optimistic about their current situation and the future, according to the poll. Fifty-two percent of respondents say they are better off this year than five years ago. Only 16 percent said they were worse off, identical to the 2016 survey.
This optimism was also reflected in their outlook on the future, with 48 percent believing they’ll be better off in 10 years – similar to last year’s 46 percent. The percentage of those who think they’ll be worse off decreased slightly from 20 percent in 2016 to 16 percent this year. The poll was conducted in the spring.
In general, during the past 22 years, more rural Nebraskans surveyed say their community changed for the better in the past year than those who say it changed for the worse. In fact, the gap between the two opinions has widened during the past six years.
A similar trend is present when asked how they believe their community will be 10 years from now. The proportion believing their community will be a better place to live has steadily increased during the past seven years, from 20 percent in 2011 to 28 percent this year.
“Since this is a random sample of households, the majority of our respondents are from micropolitan areas and communities of 2,500 or more residents. Those communities indeed have become better places to live,” said Randy Cantrell, rural sociologist with the Nebraska Rural Futures Institute. “Many communities have invested in physical improvements, new retail and entertainment establishments have opened, telecommunications have opened the door to new possibilities, and much of rural Nebraska has done quite well economically since 2007. So it is entirely logical that a sizeable portion of the population would not only have benefited from those changes, but would expect such progress to continue.”
The 22nd annual University of Nebraska-Lincoln poll was sent to 6,244 households in 86 Nebraska counties in March and April. Results are based on 1,972 responses, a response rate of 32 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percent. Complete results are available at http://ruralpoll.unl.edu.
The university’s Department of Agricultural Economics conducts the poll in cooperation with the Nebraska Rural Futures Institute with funding from Nebraska Extension and the Agricultural Research Division in the university’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

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