The first public opinion poll in Lancaster County to gauge interest in a local health department found “overwhelming support” irrespective of political party or the COVID-19 pandemic.
Conducted by Franklin & Marshall College in the fall, the survey asked more than 2,000 adults living in Lancaster County about the economic impact of the pandemic, access to testing, vaccine acceptance and support for a public health department, among others.
“Researchers and public health experts might know the benefits of a public health department, but the public also seems to recognize the benefits,” said Jennifer Meyer, one of the researchers and a government and public health professor at F&M.
Meyer added, “No matter how we cut the sample, we still saw really high support across groups for a public health department.”
Meyer and her colleagues measured the strength of that support by asking participants how much they would be willing to pay for such an agency. They asked the respondents whether they would vote for or against a proposal depending on those hypothetical costs, which ranged from a low of $5 to a high of $250.
You can read the poll in full here or by scrolling to the bottom of this story.
Among the findings:
- When the hypothetical cost was low, 98% of Independents, 96% of Democrats and 90% of Republicans supported it.
- 97% of Latinos and Blacks and 93% of whites supported a local health department when the cost was nominal.
- Support increased by income attainment from 90% of respondents who earned $50,000 or less to 97% of those earning more than $75,000.
Support waned among the groups as the hypothetical cost increased.
But Meyer noted a local health department enjoyed majority support — at 59% — even if it cost taxpayers $50 a year.
Given the public health crisis, Meyer and her colleagues also wanted to explore whether COVID-19 had any bearing on support. To do this, half of respondents were asked to imagine a referendum in the wake of COVID-19 and half to imagine improving community health with a local health department that could address high levels of lead in children’s blood.
The survey found support for both was nearly identical: 94% support among those willing to pay a nominal tax in the wake of COVID-19 compared to 93% for lead.
“If the demand for a public health department was driven by COVID-19, we would have expected the demand to be higher,” Meyer said.
Berwood Yost, director of the Floyd Institute’s Center for Opinion Research at F&M, said he was not surprised by the findings.
“It’s clear that the public supports this, so what is the real argument against it if it has widespread support?” Yost said.
The poll was conducted between September and November and was paid for in part by the United Way of Lancaster County.
Kevin Ressler, president and CEO of the United Way of Lancaster County, sees the survey as “part of our role in monitoring big issues” with research.
The other F&M researchers who participated in the survey were Jessie Cox, associate professor of Spanish and linguistics; Emily Marshall, assistant professor of sociology and public health; Harriet Okatch, assistant professor of biology and public health; and Wei-Ting Yen, assistant professor of government.