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Growing pessimism found in latest annual poll of rural Nebraskans


Growing pessimism found in latest annual poll of rural Nebraskans

Sep 25, 2023 | 5:30 am ET
By Paul Hammel
Growing pessimism found in latest annual poll of rural Nebraskans
Planting season on a farm in America. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

LINCOLN — There’s increased pessimism about the present and future of rural Nebraska, according to the latest Rural Poll conducted by a wing of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The poll, now in its 28th year, found that 27% of respondents indicated that they are worse off today than five years ago, which is an increase from 21% last year and 11% in 2021.

Most pessimism since 2009

It was the highest level of pessimistic responses since 2009, when 28% believed they were worse off.

L.J. McElravy, an associate professor of agricultural at UNL, said he was expecting more optimistic responses given that disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have now passed, but that wasn’t the case.

“However, I still see signs of hope, as we continue to see higher levels of optimism in relation to pessimism,” McElravy said.

While rural Nebraskans’ optimism about the future has trended downward over the past four years, there were still more respondents who felt they were better off now than five years ago (45%), than respondents who felt they were worse off now (27%).

There were also more respondents who feel they will be better off in 10 years (39%) than those who believe they will be worse off (27%).

Younger people, as well as those with higher household incomes and levels of education, tend to be more optimistic about their current and future well being, pollsters said.

Responses on economy mixed

They attributed the trend toward pessimism to perceptions about the economy, even though only about a quarter of respondents said they expect significant increases in prices, inflation and interest rates this year. About half of respondents last year said they saw steep hikes in prices ahead.

Most rural Nebraskans who responded to the poll described their mental health or emotional well-being as good (55%) or excellent (28%), which was slightly higher than national figures.

But more respondents felt that they were powerless to control their own lives — 34% compared to 24% in 2019.

The Rural Poll gauges rural Nebraskans’ perceptions about policy and quality of life.

Questionnaires were mailed to more than 6,000 households in late spring and summer, with 1,100 households responding from 86 of the state’s 93 counties. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Department of Agricultural Economics conducts the poll, which has a margin of error is plus-or-minus 3%.