Mileah Kromer: Polling for Parks (and Other Public Goods)

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By: Mileah Kromer 

I was certain of only a few things when I took the position at the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College as the founding director of the Goucher Poll. First, I wanted the Goucher Poll to provide a voice for residents to help facilitate the linkage between public opinion and governance. Next, I wanted to focus on policy over politics.  Finally, I wanted the Goucher Poll to provide an opportunity for students to gain experience working on issues that reflect Goucher’s values

Keeping with these ideals, in the fall of 2013, the Goucher Poll launched the “Polling for the Public Good” series. The premise is simple: we would select an organization that provides or advocates for a public good and add a series of questions on one of our bi-annual surveys to ascertain information beneficial to the mission of that organization.  The overarching goal is to help organizations better serve the public good through understanding the perceptions and preferences of the public in which they serve.

Goucher students would treat this arrangement like client work; meeting with representatives from the organization to determine their needs, helping to design survey instruments, analyzing data, and co-authoring executive reports of survey results.  It’s a mutually beneficial relationship -- our students gain real-world experience and the organization gets a statewide public opinion survey that costs only their time rather than their budget.   

On Tuesday, December 2, we released the second iteration of the Polling for the Public Good series — a survey on resident perceptions toward Maryland state parks in collaboration with the Maryland Park Service. This most recent survey represents the second time the Goucher Poll has asked residents about their perceptions concerning state parks. 

A little background: In July 2013, I reached out to the Maryland Park Service to see if it would be interested in a collaborative research project (side note: At that time, my fledgling organization had conducted exactly two polls — I remain appreciative that Maryland Park Service Superintendent Nita Settina took the time to listen to my pitch). The Maryland Park Service agreed to collaborate and our first Polling for the Public Good survey was released in the fall of 2013; subsequently, later that year we were awarded the Governor’s Park Advisory Commission Award of Excellence for the work my students did on the project.  Needless to say, we were eager and excited to work with the Maryland Park Service again this fall.

Here are some of the key findings from our recent survey:

  • * A majority of Marylanders indicate that they have visited a state park during the last year, and a large majority of those park visitors had a positive overall experience.
  • * The majority of Maryland residents expressed interest in visiting a state park during the next year.
  • * Relaxing, hiking or walking, picnicking, and visiting historic sites were the activities that residents would be most likely to participate in if they visited a Maryland state park.
  • * When given a list of goals that the Maryland Park Service would like to achieve, residents deemed connecting children to nature and preserving historic sites as the most important.
  • * Marylanders indicate that the best way for the Maryland Park Service to get them information about state parks is via email, mailers/newsletters, or social media.

Our state government often gets (sometimes deserved) flack for wasteful spending, criticisms for programs that fail to meet expectations, and garden variety complaints of ineptitude. Perhaps we should take the time to applaud something that they are doing well? Not only do many Marylanders visit their parks throughout the year, overwhelmingly those who do have a positive experience — I cannot think of many other government services that receive across-the-board positive ratings from residents. Further, the Maryland Park Service provides activities and services that reflect the preferences of residents; between the Junior Ranger Program and Civil War history to the miles of well-maintained trails, picnic areas, and beautiful scenery, the Maryland Park Service makes a little state government funding go a long way. It is a wonderful example of the government executing the will of the people through a public good.

Or, think of it another way: a (albeit very small) portion of your taxes are funding the Maryland Park Service, so why not get your money’s worth and enjoy some of our state parks? If you need more information — or just visual motivation — you should download the AccessDNR app or follow your local Maryland State Park on social media (my personal favorite is Rocky Gap State Park’s Instagram, which features photos from the ranger and wildlife rescue programming).

The Maryland Park Service has been a wonderful partner and I hope to continue to provide them with information concerning citizen perceptions of their parks in the years to come. However, parks are not the only public good in the state. Are you an organization that provides a public good? Are you non-partisan? Would you benefit from knowing what statewide residents think about your issue/cause?  Would results of a survey on your topic be of interest to Maryland residents? Are you interested in working with Goucher College students? If you answered “yes” to these questions, send me an email (). Our second bi-annual poll will be conducted in late-February/early-March and I’m looking for more ways to poll for the public good.

Mileah Kromer, Ph.D., is Director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center and Assistant Professor of Political Science at Goucher College.

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