In the late 1980s, with real estate prices on the rise and new building starts at an all-time high on Martha’s Vineyard, the Gazette commissioned a poll of seasonal and permanent residents to gauge public sentiment around development. The results revealed a deep and widely-held concern about the fast pace of growth and its implications for the Island environment and quality of life, a concern that cut across every demographic category, part-time and full-time residents alike.
A quarter-century later, in a totally different economic climate, we at the Gazette decided to revisit public opinion on the Island, and set about to update the Harris Poll conducted in 1987 and published in 1988.
Originally, we thought we would replicate as much as possible the previous survey so we could compare more fully the ways in which attitudes had changed. But it became apparent very quickly that many of the questions posed in 1987 were no longer relevant, that in fact many of the issues raised by that survey had been addressed by public and private actions, a slowing economy and the simple passage of time.
Instead we decided to focus on how people feel today about the quality of life in general on the Island, including but not limited to their attitudes toward growth and development. We wanted to probe both seasonal and permanent residents’ confidence in government and Island leadership to guide the Vineyard’s future, and to assess what issues really should dominate the agenda in 2013 and beyond.
We interviewed several leading national polling firms and acquainted ourselves with new methods of reaching a representative sample of people. Understanding that modes of communication and reactions to research have changed radically in 25 years, we considered conducting an online poll, but ultimately decided that a 15-minute telephone poll — supplementing fixed-line numbers with mobile phones — would allow us to explore issues more completely.
Louis Harris was a seasonal resident of Martha’s Vineyard when the Gazette chose his firm, Louis Harris and Associates Inc., to conduct its first poll. Assisting him was a young David Krane, now a vice president at the publicly-traded market research firm known as Harris Interactive. It was the continuity that Mr. Krane offered that clinched our decision to use Harris again.
“We had a particular interest in helping update it,” said Mr. Krane, who managed the Harris team that conducted the recent survey. “One of the things I tried to do was maintain a certain comparability.”
With help from Harris, we crafted a new set of questions, a few of which were parallel to questions asked in 1987. To keep the cost down, we used a smaller sample size than was used 26 years ago, but Harris statisticians said the difference in margin of error was about 1 per cent. A total of 521 people were interviewed, slightly more of them permanent residents than seasonal residents of the Vineyard. Harris took extra steps to ensure that the permanent population sampled was generally consistent with U.S. Census data.
“I feel very good about the sample,” Mr. Krane said. “There’s a certain amount of science to doing polls, but then you have to step back and see if [the results] make sense, and I feel very good about that.”
Results of the 2013 survey and a copy of our extensive coverage of the 1987 survey in the Vineyard Gazette are available on our website, mvgazette.com.