Aerial Photo of Ord, Nebraska - July 2018

Ord, Nebraska, photos for Rural Futures Institute. July 9, 2018. Photo by Craig Chandler / University Communication

In March 2019, the Nebraska Rural Poll mailed surveys to 6,260 households in rural Nebraska and found rural Nebraskans have mixed opinions regarding immigration’s impact on Nebraska. 

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Department of Agricultural Economics partners with Nebraska Extension and the University of Nebraska’s Rural Futures Institute to collect data through an annual survey called the Nebraska Rural Poll. They send surveys to randomly selected households in non-metropolitan counties so local and state leaders understand the issues, challenges and concerns of Nebraska’s rural communities.

According to the data, 38% agree that immigrants have a positive impact on rural Nebraska, while 30% disagree. Additionally, about 33% agree that on balance immigration has benefitted rural Nebraska, while 27% disagree. 

“One of the things that we were looking at was people who live in areas that have larger populations and likely more immigrants,” LJ McElravy, associate professor of agricultural leadership, education and communication, said. “We saw they had more positive perceptions of the role of immigration in rural Nebraska.”

He also said the poll found younger people were more likely to agree that immigrants strengthen rural Nebraska, though the data didn’t tell them why.

The report highlighted two concerns rural Nebraskans may have regarding recent immigrants: language issues and the effect of illegal immigration on wages. The majority of rural Nebraskans, 84%, believe immigrants should learn to speak English within a reasonable amount of time, while 51% disagree that communities should translate important information into other languages.

Around 44% of rural Nebraskans agreed that undocumented immigrants drive down wages in rural communities. About 23% disagree, while one-third neither agreed nor disagreed. 

According to the poll’s website, rural Nebraskans, traditionally, have not had a strong voice in policy decisions, so Nebraska Rural Poll collects an aggregated voice of rural Nebraskans to relay to state lawmakers. Poll findings are given to senators in the Nebraska Legislature, staff members of the Nebraska’s congressional delegation and other state and local leaders.

“The team on the rural poll has discussions on what topics will be relevant. We had asked some questions several years ago about immigration,” McElravy said. “It’s obviously been a discussion in national and local politics, so we thought it would be a good time to bring that up again.” 

According to Brad Lubben, associate professor of agricultural economics and policy specialist for Extension, Nebraska Rural Poll’s annual topic is decided by a team of analysts with input from stakeholders around the state who look at current events that affect rural Nebraska. McElravy said the team will additionally research if anyone at the University of Nebraska has expertise in polling topics for insights.

The survey had about a 28% response rate, which is considered representative and standard, according to McElravy. Respondents represented 86 rural counties across Nebraska. 

Despite Grand Island officially becoming a metropolitan area in 2013, Hall County and five other metropolitan counties are still included in the survey due to traditional inclusion in the past, according to McElravy.

The metropolitan counties not included in the poll are Cass, Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy, Saunders, Seward and Washington counties, which include some major Nebraskan cities such as Lincoln and Omaha.

“There’s a pretty clear split in immigration,” McElravy said. “I think that seems to be consistent with the national trends we see. But I also think there’s sometimes an unfair portrayal of what rural life is like or what rural people think or feel. I think Nebraska Rural Poll is an opportunity to give a voice to rural Nebraska.”