Pensacola, Florida
Friday November 24th 2017

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2017 Snapshot of Pensacola Area

By Rick Outzen

Last week, the Pensacola Young Professionals released their 10th Annual Quality of Life Survey that showed more people believe Escambia County and the City of Pensacola are heading in the right direction than they did a year ago–county up 6.1 percent, the city up 12.4 percent.

City residents had very similar attitudes towards the right directions for the county (63.9 percent) and city (62.8 percent). Those outside the city limits had lower percentages for both, but they were still positive–county 55.2 percent, city 55.7 percent.

As they have done since 2008, Mason-Dixon Polling & Research conducted the survey in June. Eight hundred registered Escambia County voters were interviewed by telephone. The interviewees were selected randomly from Florida voter registration records. The resulting sample fairly reflected the demographic profile of voters in Escambia County. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5-percentage points.

In 2008, less than 30 percent believed the city and county were on the right track. Ten years ago, few voters felt the community had the leadership to improve. Mason-Dixon Pollster Larry Harris said he had never seen lower overall satisfaction scores.

“The survey finds that you have an anxious and dissatisfied community and electorate,” said Harris in a 2008 telephone interview. “I do this kind of work all over the country, and you’ll get low ratings in areas in the Rust Belt, but they have the leadership to meet the challenges.”

Surprises
Jonathan Thompson of the Pensacola Young Professionals has worked on the Quality of Life Survey for the past three years. He has seen the percentages change from year to year.

“Last year perception of the City of Pensacola and the ratings for Mayor Hayward took a surprisingly sharp dip after doing really well for a while,” he told Inweekly. “This year those numbers have bounced back moderately but not quite to the really high levels they had in 2015.”

During his first term (2011-14), an average of 53 percent of the voters believed the Pensacola mayor was doing an excellent or good job. That percentage soared in 2015 to 67 percent but fell in 2016 to only 34 percent. This year, his job performance climbed back to its first-term average with 53 percent giving him positive marks.

The Pensacola City Council this year received the lowest job performance rating, 34 percent positive, followed by the Escambia County Commission and School Board with 39 percent saying they were doing an excellent or good job.

Fewer voters felt good about public education this year, particularly inside the city. Thompson said, “Both the school board and the superintendent saw their numbers take a little bit of a dip this year. Nothing catastrophic but somewhat of a decline. City voters, more than county voters, seemed to take a more pessimistic view.”

Superintendent Malcolm Thomas, who was elected to a third term last year, earned a 51.7-percent positive rating. However, his rating among city voters dropped 32 percentage points, from 76.3 to 44.3. The positive rating for the school board among city voters dropped 33.5 points, from 60.9 to 27.4.

According to the PYP Quality of Life Survey, 72.7 percent of city voters had a negative view of the performance of the Escambia County Public School system in preparing students for careers–18.3 points lower than 2016. The city voters who believed the schools were improving dropped 28.7 points. Outside city limits the attitudes were the same as last year.

Another unusual trend was that those living outside of the Pensacola city limits had more positive attitudes about the city than city voters.

“For years, the data always showed that the city kind of felt better about itself and about the county in general than county residents did,” said Thompson. “There’s a little bit of a flip flop. Now the county numbers are up but also their perception of the city. So that’s a really interesting little evolution that’s happened in the last few years.”

The survey revealed the positive job ratings for Mayor Hayward and Pensacola City Council jumped among county voters 21.2 and 10.5 percentage points respectively. County voters were much more positive about the job growth inside the city than in the county, 31.6 to 17.2 percent.

When it comes to the biggest challenges facing our area, slightly more than a quarter of area voters believed in 2008 that jobs and economy were the biggest issues. The same is true for 2017, but crime, sprawl and traffic have climbed into the top four issues.

“We’re not Houston. We’re not Atlanta, but we have a certain expectation of what traffic should be like in downtown and near Navy Federal,” said Thompson. “It’s getting on people’s radar that the increase in traffic has an impact on the capacity of our roads and infrastructure.”

Measuring Attitudes Annually
Rishy and Quint Studer have funded the Quality of Life Survey since its inception. Originally the Better Pensacola Forum, chaired by Jerry Maygarden, supervised the study. PYP took the reins in 2011. The 2017 survey cost $28,500.

“We plan on continuing to do it every year,” Quint Studer told Inweekly. “The Pensacola Young Professionals have been the perfect organization to give this to because they care deeply, like many people do, about the area.”

He started the Quality of Life Survey to more accurately measure how voters felt about the community.

“During the Community Maritime Park debate, it drove me crazy when elected officials would say they were hearing from a lot of their constituency that they didn’t want the waterfront developed,” said Studer. “When we first did the Mason-Dixon survey, one of the things that came out really clearly is people wanted the downtown waterfront developed. They wanted downtown to be vibrant.”

He continued. “So those who said people didn’t want it, they were wrong. They did.”

Studer said the Pensacola and Escambia County are very different from what they were a decade ago.

“There’s a lot of construction projects going on which is always good,” he said. “Thanks to Don Gaetz, the new bridge construction is going to have a big impact. Triumph Gulf Coast dollars are coming our way, too.”

Studer believes the time is ripe to focus on more complicated issues like public education and the “pockets of generational poverty.”

“We just can’t keep ignoring our poverty because, first of all, it’s just not right,” he said. “We’ve got people that have been left out, that have lost their hope. We have to focus on developing a stronger, more diverse middle class. Wages have been kept way too low for way too long.”

He sees a need to change how public education is run in Escambia County.

Studer said, “We’ve got to move to a selected superintendent. I think Malcolm Thomas has done as good as he can possibly do. It’s not about Malcolm, but, in the future, we should be able to go out and hire the very best superintendent in the world to run our school system.”

Maybe that should be a question for the 2018 Quality of Life Survey.

To read the entire 2017 survey, visit pensacolayp.com.