How do rural Illinoisans feel about their lives and their communities? This question was asked to more than 600 rural Illinois residents as part if the Illinois Rural Life Poll, conducted in summer 2005.
Residents living in towns with populations of less than 25,000 were asked about their reliance on neighbors, whether they perceived their town as safer than a large city, and if rural Illinois was a good place to raise children.
The Illinois Rural Life Poll tried to get a picture of respondents communities and their democratic underpinnings measured in terms of trusting neighbors; a secure environment for raising children; and feelings of neighborliness and community. Results suggest life in rural Illinois offers a firm foundation for democratic values, as some of the following poll results show:
65 percent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed they could always count on their neighbors;
82 percent strongly agreed or agreed their neighbors could count on them when they need help;
74 percent strongly agreed or agreed that living in a rural area or small town is much safer than big cities;
72 percent strongly agreed or agreed that family ties and friendships make this community special to me; and
35 percent strongly agreed or agreed that their neighborhood is closely knit.
As the last item suggests, this comforting picture of rural life is debatable and may indicate something about the fragility of the complex history, culture and economic well-being that underpin a democratic society.
Another indication of the fragility of rural communities is the 88 percent of respondents who agreed or strongly agreed that parents need to be increasingly watchful these days to protect their children from potential harm from strangers. This is comparable to metropolitan areas such as Chicago or St. Louis.
Further evidence emerged when respondents were asked to respond to I can think of no other place to live where I would feel safer. While 49 percent agreed or strongly agreed, 46 percent were neutral or disagreed.
A public opinion poll measures peoples perceptions, which are shaped by local environment, interactions with neighbors and violence in the community. But perceptions are also shaped by national media and events such as 9/11 and continuing global violence. Rural residents perceptions not only reflect activities of neighbors on the town square but also events in the global environment.
Results suggest rural Illinois residents generally trust their neighbors, cherish neighborliness and will respond to a neighbors call in a time of need. They are concerned their children should be careful around strangers, and their communities are not tightly knit. In large measure, rural residents are telling us they like rural life, but also have fears and concerns.
For more information about the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, visit www.IIRA.org . To comment about this column, contact Timothy Collins at 800-526-9943 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the July 26-Aug. 1, 2006, issue