Survey results reveal residents’ growing discontent with life in Florida

Jan 14, 2008

Survey results reveal residents’ growing discontent with life in Florida

A survey reveals increasing dissatisfaction with life in Florida. The discontent may be an early warning sign, analysts say.

Maya Bell
Sentinel Staff Writer

January 14, 2008

Long a powerful magnet, Florida is losing some of its luster as pessimism about the quality of life in paradise grows stronger.


Nearly half of the Floridians polled for the second-annual Sunshine State Survey say life in Florida is worse today than it was five years ago, and 37 percent think the decline will continue during the next five years. Among the chief concerns: high property taxes and homeowners insurance, so-so public schools, and ineffective growth management.


As a result, one in three Floridians would tell a loved one or friend not to move to the once-vaunted Sunshine State, and one in five is seriously considering moving elsewhere.


“Think about it: Your best friend from college called you up and said, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about moving to Florida and you said, ‘Don’t come,’ ” said Brad Coker, managing partner for Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., which conducted the phone survey in late November. “That’s noteworthy. Ten years ago, I don’t think you would have seen those kinds of numbers. Everybody was moving here. Everyone wanted to be here.”


The annual survey was established last year to identify issues of growing public concern and, when necessary, motivate policymakers to do something about them. Sponsors plan to ask the same set of core questions every year to give policymakers an accurate gauge of public opinion.


And after just one year, the survey has pinpointed a significant shift in how Floridians feel about living here. Last year, 36 percent said life in Florida was worse than it had been five years earlier. Today, the number has jumped to 43 percent. Meanwhile, the number of people who think life in Florida is better now than five years ago fell to just 15 percent, from 18 percent a year ago.


Putting those stats together shows that pessimists outnumbered optimists 2-to-1 last year — and 3-to-1 this year.


While the majority of Floridians are planning to stay put and still would urge others to come here, analysts say the increasing number of those dissatisfied with life here should be treated as an early warning signal.


“You have to look at these things as blinking caution lights,” said Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida who came up with the idea for the annual poll. “These numbers definitely warrant attention if Florida is to remain a desirable place to live, work and play.”


Conducted in late November with 1,200 randomly selected residents across the state, the survey also gives some good clues about what’s bugging Floridians. Catapulting from No. 5 on last year’s list of top concerns to No. 1 this year are taxes and government spending.


More Floridians cited property taxes as the most unfair source of government revenue and the single biggest stressor on their household finances. Taxes on gas were the second-most-unpopular revenue source, and gas prices the second-most-cited financial stressor. Home insurance was third.


Public schools also remained a top concern, dropping from No. 1 last year to No. 2 this year. Floridians gave their local public schools only marginally favorable ratings but were overwhelmingly positive about the state’s universities and colleges. Increased teacher pay was cited most often as a priority for local school districts.


On another hot-button issue, a majority of Floridians think illegal immigration is a serious problem for the state and support tough measures against illegal migrants and employers who hire them. Yet 59 percent think illegal immigrants fill jobs few others will do.


The survey was commissioned by Leadership Florida, a leadership-training group in Tallahassee, and its partners, the Florida Philanthropic Network and The Jessie Ball duPont Fund. Participants included Floridians from every region — 18 percent of them from the Orlando/Daytona Beach area — and every income bracket and age range of at least 18 years.


But unlike the population at large, the overwhelming majority of the respondents — 82 percent — were registered voters. They also were mostly white homeowners who have lived in Florida for at least 10 years. Almost half — 47 percent — have lived here for at least 20 years.


The survey has a margin of error of 2.1 percentage points.


 Maya Bell can be reached at 305-810-5003 or


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