Martha’s Vineyard residents are here for the outdoor lifestyle, rural character, beaches and coastline, and they stay for the sense of community on the Island. They are happy with their volunteer fire departments, their emergency services, their hospital and their police squads. They have high confidence in the Island conservation groups and the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, and don’t worry too much about crime and safety.

Their chief concerns are environmental and financial: coastal erosion, cost of housing, pollution in ponds and cost of living top the list. They have little confidence in state and county government and affordable housing groups.

They are not at all thrilled with their cell phone service.

Just over 25 years ago, the Vineyard Gazette commissioned a nationally known polling firm to gauge residents' opinions about the rapid growth that was then taking place on the Island. This spring, the Gazette asked Harris Interactive to go back into the community to sample attitudes about quality of life. In a package of stories and charts accompanying this article, the Gazette describes the background and reaction to the 1987 poll and why we decided to commission a new poll, and takes a closer look at how full-time and seasonal residents regard the Martha's Vineyard Commission. A topline summary of poll results appears here.

And despite the concerns, Vineyard residents, both permanent and seasonal, appear to be generally content, reporting a good quality of life and belief that things are going in the right direction.

This contentment was documented in a recent survey of more than 500 permanent and seasonal residents commissioned by the Vineyard Gazette this spring and conducted by Harris Interactive. The random survey asked residents to respond to 11 questions about life on the Vineyard, ranging from quality of services to confidence in leadership.

The survey comes 25 years after the newspaper published results of a poll by the predecessor to Harris Interactive, Louis Harris and Associates Inc. That poll documented widespread concern about overdevelopment and the resulting strain on services. Conducted in 1987 and released in 1988, the poll showed that seasonal and permanent residents were remarkably united in their concern about overcrowding and rapid growth, and called for more controls on development.

The 1987 poll was the first of its kind for the region. It dispelled some myths, including a supposed chasm in opinion between seasonal and permanent residents, while showing that residents feared the destruction of the environment and overcrowding on the Island.

A quarter of a century later, the poll commissioned by the Gazette shows a population that is decidedly more content and optimistic, though strong concerns remain about the environment and cost of living. While the poll questions were not the same, some changes in opinion are clear: the Steamship Authority has gone up in public opinion, and development, while still a concern to some, no longer poses the same threat in the minds of Island residents. Confidence in Island leadership and services, though not unanimous, is steady. And as in 1988, seasonal and permanent residents are largely like-minded when it comes to the Vineyard.


The Vineyard Gazette-Harris Interactive poll was conducted between April 26 and May 13, 2013. A total of 521 adults 18 years of age and older responded to a series of questions. Polling of permanent residents was done through random digit dialing and a cell phone sample. Seasonal residents were reached both through random calling and the Gazette subscriber list.

The results include a nearly even mix of permanent and seasonal residents, with 271 permanent residents and 250 seasonal residents responding. Results were weighted when necessary to reflect age by gender, race, household size and household income based on U.S. Census figures, according to Harris Interactive. The company reported that the theoretical margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

“Overall, people feel very good about life on the Island,” concluded David Krane, a vice president at Harris Interactive who led the polling project. “I was hard pressed, frankly, to find a lot of negatives here. On a lot of these questions the positives vastly outweigh the negatives, if you will,” Mr. Krane said.

“In some cases the seasonal folks are a little bit more positive than the permanent,” he added.

Mr. Krane, who was Lou Harris’s research assistant when the 1987 poll was conducted, described the tone of the original survey as, “A lot more worry, ‘Oh my goodness, is the future of the Island at stake?’ kind of thing, versus this one, where ‘Hey, things are pretty good.’ ”

He added: “I think it has some areas that people should worry about, but overall I think you don’t feel that sense of worry about the direction of the Island.”

General contentment among residents is clear. A decisive 92 per cent of those polled said they would rate the overall quality of life on Martha’s Vineyard as excellent or good; 56 per cent put quality of life in the “excellent” category. Only six per cent rated the quality of life as fair or poor.

Permanent residents rated the quality of life slightly higher than seasonal residents.

“I think [the quality of life is] high, but . . . it’s very hard for somebody who is a seasonal resident to speak to the quality in total,” said Currie Smith, 55, a longtime seasonal visitor who was one of a number of people polled who agreed to be interviewed later by the newspaper. She noted that the cost of living on the Island is more of a concern to year-round residents.

Headed in the Right Direction

A total of 62 per cent of residents, versus 24 per cent, said they think things are headed in the right direction.

Vineyard residents were more divided about whether the quality of Island life has improved or declined over the last five years. The majority of residents, 36 per cent, said things have stayed the same, while 34 per cent said things have improved a lot or a little. About a quarter of residents, 26 per cent, said quality of life has deteriorated a little or a lot in the last five years.

A quarter century after concern for the environment sparked strong concern from residents, natural resources are still the key attraction and also the focus of concern. With 79 per cent of responses, residents most frequently cited Martha’s Vineyard’s beaches, coastline and the ocean as playing a role in their decision to live on the Island. The second most popular reason, at 75 per cent, was outdoor lifestyle, followed by rural character with 71 per cent, and cleanliness at 70 per cent. The top four answers were the same for seasonal and permanent residents.

Far more permanent residents, 36 per cent to seven per cent, said employment drew them to the Island. Schools were also more important to permanent residents, with 47 per cent of those respondents saying that played a role in their decision to come here, compared to 13 per cent of seasonal residents.

Residents said the same factors that attracted them to the Island in the first place played a role in their decision to stay on the Vineyard, although family and friends and a sense of community were higher on the list. For permanent residents, the sense of community was second only to beaches and ocean as a reason to stay, with 86 per cent citing community as a factor in their decision. Permanent residents also said safety was a factor in the decision to stay here — 80 per cent compared to 68 per cent for seasonal residents, along with good schools (60 per cent to 19 per cent), and employment (58 per cent to 11 per cent).

Robby Bick, a permanent resident, said the natural environment, intelligent citizenry and safety are all good attributes, but he moved here for family.

“It seemed like a better place to bring up the kids,” said Mr. Bick, who is 55. “Better to send the kids to the beach than the mall,” he said, adding: “When I was a twenty-something on my own, I would’ve hated it here.”

Casey Decker, 25, said he grew up on the Island and came back for a job after graduating from college, citing the lure of family and friends.

Those surveyed have been here awhile; 85 per cent of seasonal residents and 76 per cent of permanent residents reported that they have been living on or visiting Martha’s Vineyard for more than 15 years.

Transportation, Emergency 
Services: a Sea Change in Opinion

The 1988 Gazette Harris poll found strong concern for the strain overdevelopment might place on services like roads, emergency response and the ferry system. But this year, more than half of the residents polled said they were very satisfied with fire and emergency response, police, public transportation and ferry service. Air transit and cell phone service received the lowest marks.

Residents are most satisfied with fire and emergency response, with 71 per cent very satisfied and 17 per cent somewhat satisfied. More than half of residents, 57 per cent, are very satisfied with police, and 31 per cent are somewhat satisfied. The majority of respondents, 54 per cent, are highly satisfied with public transportation, and 27 per cent were somewhat satisfied.

In the 1988 poll, 83 per cent of residents said ferry service to and from the Island was critically strained. In the 2013 poll, half the respondents said they are very satisfied with ferry services, and another 39 per cent said they are somewhat satisfied.

When it comes to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, 47 per cent of residents are very satisfied, and another 33 per cent somewhat satisfied.

Roads and schools were in the middle of the pack, and drew different opinions from seasonal and permanent residents. More permanent residents were very satisfied with roads, at 53 per cent compared to 38 per cent among seasonal residents. Overall, 45 per cent of residents were very satisfied with roads and 42 per cent were somewhat satisfied.

Schools elicited the opposite response: the majority of permanent residents, 54 per cent, said they are very satisfied with schools, compared to 25 per cent of seasonal residents. Of all residents, 40 per cent said they are very satisfied with the schools and 23 per cent said they are somewhat satisfied. Residents were less keen on air transit service, with 27 per cent very satisfied and 36 somewhat satisfied. Cell phone service was at the bottom of the list. Just 20 per cent said they are very satisfied with their cell service, and 36 per cent said they are somewhat satisfied. A quarter of respondents said they are not very satisfied with cell service, and 13 per cent said they are not satisfied at all. “Cell phone service is ridiculously bad,” Mr. Bick said. “I can’t use my cell phone in my own house half the time . . . connectivity is an issue, especially as a business person. He said the lack of fast internet service could make the Island an undesirable place for businesses.

“Cell phone service I think is not very good, said Rudy Riedl, 65, a seasonal resident. “Ferry service I think is relatively good.”

He said despite some frustration with the boat line reservation system, “In general we don’t have a lot of issues with the boat.”

Confidence in Leadership 
Sees Shift in Attitude

The poll revisited Island leadership, which was also a subject of the 1988 poll. Twenty-five years ago, residents said they had the highest confidence in environmental groups, concerned citizen community groups and the press. At a time of concern over development , the real estate industry had the lowest level of confidence. The newest poll did not include the press or the real estate industry, but conservation groups were still ranked high in confidence. Town government and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission fell in the middle, and state and county government and affordable housing groups had the lowest confidence levels. Seasonal residents had more confidence in these organizations than permanent residents. “There’s not universal endorsement here,” Mr. Krane said. “Room for improvement is one way I read this.” He pointed out that 27 per cent of permanent residents, or nearly three out of 10 people, have hardly any confidence in the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. When it comes to decisions concerning the future of Martha’s Vineyard, 60 per cent of residents said they had a great deal of confidence in conservation and environmental groups; 34 per cent reported some confidence, and four per cent said they had hardly any confidence.

The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, which uses revenue from a two per cent fee charged on most Vineyard real estate transactions to purchase and manage land for conservation and recreation, had similarly high approval ratings, with 57 per cent high confidence, 31 per cent moderate confidence, and nine per cent low confidence.

In both cases, seasonal residents had higher confidence in these groups than permanent residents.

Confidence levels in the Steamship Authority have increased considerably in the last 25 years. In 1988, the SSA had 12 per cent high, 38 per cent moderate, and 46 per cent low confidence.

But today the boat service had the third-highest high confidence ranking, with 38 per cent, and 49 per cent said they had some confidence in the organization. In a decisive change, only 11 per cent said they had low confidence in the organization.

Local town government fell in the middle, with 26 per cent high confidence, 59 per cent moderate confidence, and 12 per cent low confidence, as did the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, with 23 per cent high confidence, 47 per cent moderate confidence, and 17 per cent low confidence.

Affordable housing groups, state government and county government came in lower on the approval scale. State government received the lowest confidence rating, with 23 per cent low, 54 per cent medium, and 16 per cent high confidence. County government followed with 21 per cent low confidence, 54 per cent moderate, and only 14 per cent high confidence.

Eighteen per cent of residents said they had hardly any confidence in affordable housing groups, compared to 49 per cent with some confidence and 21 per cent with high confidence.

Regulations About Right, 
More Needed on House Size

By and large, residents said they were satisfied with or called for more regulations on house size, commercial and coastal development and historic preservation. Few called for less regulation. By a narrow majority of 53 per cent, residents called for more regulation of house size, though 35 per cent thought the amount of regulation is about right, and 10 per cent called for less regulation.

More seasonal residents called for house size regulation, 65 per cent compared to 43 per cent of permanent residents.

The majority of those polled said regulations for historic preservation were about right, with 67 per cent satisfied compared to 23 per cent calling for more regulation and seven per cent calling for less.

Residents were also satisfied with regulation of commercial development, with 57 per cent saying the level was about right. Thirty per cent called for more regulation for commercial development, and 10 per cent called for less.

The response was more divided on regulation of coastal development; half of respondents said there should be more regulation, while 41 per cent said the amount is about right. Five per cent called for less regulation of coastal development.

Future Concerns

Looking to the future, residents were asked how concerned they were about 11 topics, with rankings from “very” or “somewhat” to “not very” or “not at all” concerned. The highest percentage of residents, 64 per cent, were very concerned about coastal erosion, and that concern was closely followed by cost of housing, pollution in ponds and cost of living.

Problems ranked least in concern were crime and loss of safety, and wealth disparity between seasonal residents and year-rounders.

Here seasonal and permanent residents diverged somewhat. In the very concerned category, seasonal residents were most concerned about coastal erosion (73 per cent) and pollution in ponds (56 per cent) followed by development and cost of housing.

Permanent residents said their top two concerns were cost of housing and cost of living, with 63 per cent saying they were very concerned about those topics. These concerns were followed by coastal erosion and pollution in ponds.

Concern about drugs and substance abuse was at the middle of the pack, with 49 per cent very concerned. This was followed by development, with 48 per cent very concerned, traffic congestion (41 per cent) and property taxes (38 per cent).

Wealth disparity between seasonal residents and year-rounders was a matter of high concern for 37 per cent of residents, while 34 per cent said they were not very or not at all concerned about that issue. Lack of economic opportunity, like jobs, was ranked at 34 per cent very concerned.

Crime and loss of safety was ranked last, with 16 per cent very concerned about that issue, and 49 per cent not very or not at all concerned about that issue.

“I’m worried about the coastal erosion and the cost of living,” said Mr. Decker. “Crime, not so much.”

He spoke of homes in Chilmark that are teetering at the edge of the ocean. “In a few hundred years the Island is not going to look like it does now,” he said. But the cost of living also concerned Mr. Decker, who noted that when his parents built their house in 1986, it cost $250,000. “That same property now costs almost $1 million,” he said. “It’s a little out of reach for people — career professionals. It’s just really hard to live here,” he said.

“The pollution in ponds is pretty serious,” said Barrett Grazioso, 40, a year-round resident. “We like to believe this is a nice, pure place to live, so protecting those ponds should be at the top of the list, that goes without saying.” The cost of living may be higher, Ms. Grazioso said, but she noted that there are trade-offs: few shopping malls, and Islanders don’t have to drive long distances. Job opportunities are challenging, and Ms. Grazioso said there are times she has left the Island because of employment options. But she was accepting of this. “It’s a choice Islanders make . . . you have to be open minded,” she said.

Ms. Smith, the seasonal resident, said she’s very concerned about coastal erosion, having been at the Aquinnah cliffs last weekend. “I’m worried about phragmites in Squibnocket Pond. I’m worried about the cost of living for all of us, most especially those that live there all year round, she said.

Still, some concerns have not come to pass. “I love the fact that there’s not traffic lights,” she said. “I love the fact that there’s no McDonald’s. I don’t ever want to see them.”

For more charts from the Harris poll, see our gallery.