Iowa Small Town Poll will evaluate quality of life in rural Iowa; poll will now be distributed every 2 years

Map of Iowa showing communities selected for the Iowa Small Town Poll

This map shows communities selected for the Iowa Small Towns Project. Image courtesy of David Peters. Larger image.

AMES, Iowa – The Iowa Small Town Poll, an Iowa State University survey that gauges quality of life in rural Iowa, will soon hit mailboxes in communities across the state.

And the poll’s organizers have announced plans to conduct the survey every two years, rather than every 10 years as in the past.

The Iowa Small Town Poll assesses life, attitudes and social interactions in 125 small towns in Iowa. The first survey was conducted in 1994 and again in 2004 and 2014.

Rather than wait until 2024 to conduct the next survey, ISU faculty decided to release the poll again this year. David Peters, associate professor of sociology and project coordinator, said gathering data biennially will provide more relevant results.

“A lot can change in 10 years,” Peters said. “Conducting the survey more often will allow us to be more topical, to ask questions regarding public policies that are of immediate concern.”

Topics this year include population change, recovery from recession, crime and drinking water quality.

Survey postcards soon will arrive in 250 households in each of the small towns selected for the project, Peters said. Those postcards will refer recipients to an online survey asking a range of questions regarding social conditions, perceptions of local quality of life and local services and amenities. Iowans who complete the 20-minute survey will be entered in drawings for one of 30 $100 gift cards.

Peters said the survey results help to inform state and local policymakers as they consider issues that affect rural communities.  

The survey launches on the heels of a recent analysis of income growth in Iowa completed by Peters based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau. In the analysis, Peters found that incomes in rural Iowa have climbed faster than in urban areas of the state over the last 10 years.

“In short, rural Iowa households are prospering in terms of their incomes,” Peters wrote in the analysis. “Compared to their urban counterparts in Iowa and other rural people nationally, incomes of rural Iowans have been both higher and faster growing over the past decade.”

The analysis pegged the median household income in rural Iowa at $60,223 in 2015, a 9.6 percent increase from 2005. The median income in urban parts of the state was $51,705, growing at a more modest rate of 3.7 percent since 2005.

Peters said the relative prosperity in rural Iowa may be due to agriculture or to smaller communities supporting a more stable employment base. But he noted that rural residents must often commute to larger communities for job opportunities, an arrangement he described as a “hub-and-spoke system.”

He said distributing the Iowa Small Town Poll every other year will allow researchers to take a more precise look at the factors that influence rural prosperity.

More information on the Iowa Small Town Poll is available on the project’s website. Continued support for the project comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Experiment Station and ISU Extension and Outreach.