Resident Survey

Matthew H. Hymel, County Administrator


Image says "Communities are partnerships among... private sector, residents, community-based organizations, and government."

In the fall of 2018, Marin County worked with the National Research Center (NRC) to conduct its first resident survey since 2009. The National Citizen Survey is designed to capture a snapshot of a community’s opinions and perspectives using industry-standard survey methods and best practices. The survey covers resident opinions across three “pillars” of every community (Community Characteristics, Governance and Participation) and eight central “facets” of community (Safety, Mobility, Natural Environment, Built Environment, Economy, Recreation and Wellness, Education and Enrichment and Community Engagement).

A central aim was to assess whether the Marin County Board of Supervisors’ budget priorities are consistent with those of the community it serves, as was comparing ("benchmarking") Marin’s results among other counties and communities nationwide. Custom questions specific to Marin were added to gauge these priorities. Most survey questions were otherwise the same as those asked of all other communities to facilitate benchmarking.

County Priorities

The Board of Supervisors Fiscal Year 2018-20 Budget included the following priorities over the next two years. Surveyed residents prioritized these as “essential” or “very important” in the following order:

  • 91 percent - Investing in County infrastructure (roads, fire stations, libraries, etc.)
  • 87 percent - Improving disaster preparedness
  • 77 percent - Preserving affordable housing (e.g. workforce, senior or low-income)
  • 76 percent - Addressing climate change
  • 74 percent - Eliminating inequities in County policies and programs
Image shows bar chart of ratings from survey respondents about how important they thought it was for the Marin County government to focus on each of the following topics: Investing in county infrastructure, improving disaster preparedness, preserving affordable housing, addressing climate change, and eliminating inequities in county policies and programs.

Random Sample vs. Voluntary “Opt-in” Survey

There are two parts to the 2018 resident survey:

  • A random sample survey, in which 3,200 Marin households were randomly selected to respond via postage-paid envelope or online in English or Spanish. Some 695 did so, for a 22 percent response rate and a 4 percent margin of error.  Residents in Marin’s cities and towns were included in addition to residents in unincorporated areas of Marin; differences are highlighted in a Comparisons by Incorporation Status report.
  • A voluntary supplemental “opt-in” survey, in which 3,068 Marin residents voluntarily and anonymously responded. To ensure as many voices could be heard as possible, a County employee workgroup reached out in English, Spanish and Vietnamese to many of its community-based organization partners to work with their clients and area residents to seek their opinions about County services and priorities. Results will help to inform the results of the random sample survey.

These survey results give us a starting point to compare ourselves to other local governments over time, and to help us understand what we’re doing well and where we may need to focus more in the next two years. Follow-up efforts will include “deeper dive” listening sessions and focus groups in the months ahead.



Random Sample Survey Results

Marin's random sample resident survey received a 22 percent response rate with 695 completing the survey (on the higher end for our population size) with a 4 percent overall margin of error. Of the 695 completed surveys, 54 were completed online; 92 percent were written responses. All reports can be accessed below, including comparisons by incorporation status, demographic subgroups, and by supervisorial district. 

Key Findings

Broadly, most ratings tended to be positive and were similar to ratings observed in comparison jurisdictions. Within the pillar of Community Characteristics, for example, scores within the facet of Safety tended to be higher than those in other communities and items within the Built Environment facet tended to be lower than national benchmarks, where affordable quality housing was a concern. Within Governance, aspects of the Natural Environment facet were more positively viewed than in other communities across the nation.

  • Key Finding 1:  Marin residents enjoy a positive and healthy quality of life
  • Key Finding 2:  Marin's economy is strong, but affordability is a challenge
  • Key Finding 3:  Marin’s natural environment is highly regarded
  • Key Finding 4:  While automobile traffic is a challenge in Marin, pedestrian and bicycle travel shine
Infographic that indicates which community facets were deemed the most important focus areas for the community.  The top three focus areas are Mobility, Natural Environment and Economy.

For more information on the Key Findings for the 2018 Survey, view National Research Center's presentation of the findings.

National Benchmark Comparisons

The Resident Survey provided benchmark comparisons to similar communities nationwide, including cities, towns and counties. Comparing the ratings to other similar communities through benchmark comparisons more accurately shows standout areas that Marin is excelling in, or areas with room for improvement. Of 126 questions overall, relative to national benchmarks:

  • 19 Marin responses received higher ratings
  • 94 Marin responses received similar ratings
  • 13 Marin responses received lower ratings

County Benchmark Comparisons

Counties provide more mandated services on behalf of the state or federal government than do cities or towns – for example, social services, mental health or public health services. Over 40 percent of Marin County’s budget is comprised of state or federal revenues, funding which is restricted for dedicated purposes. In addition, counties tend to provide services to broader, more rural and less urbanized communities. Relatively speaking, Marin County compares more favorably to county benchmarks vs. national benchmark communities including cities and towns. Of 126 questions overall, relative to county benchmarks:

  • 33 Marin responses received higher ratings
  • 90 Marin responses received similar ratings
  • 3 Marin responses received lower ratings

Find a the list of communities included in Marin's benchmark comparisons and how we compared to those communities in the Technical Appendices.

Selecting Recipients

To choose the 3,200 scientific survey recipients, a systematic sampling method was applied to the list of households screened for geographic location. An individual within each household was selected using the birthday method. The birthday method selects a person within the household by asking the “person whose birthday has most recently passed” to complete the questionnaire. The underlying assumption in this method is that day of birth has no relationship to the way people respond to surveys. Multi-family housing units were over-sampled to improve response from hard-to-reach, lower-income or younger apartment dwellers.

Survey Administration

Selected households received three mailings, one week apart, beginning on November 6, 2018. The first mailing was a pre-notification postcard announcing the upcoming survey. The next mailing contained a letter from the District 1 Supervisor/Board President Damon Connolly inviting the household to participate, a questionnaire and a postage-paid return envelope. The final mailing contained a reminder letter, another survey and a postage-paid return envelope. All mailings were in English and Spanish. Respondents could also opt to take the survey online. Completed surveys were collected over the following seven weeks.

Data Weighting

The demographic characteristics of the survey respondents were compared to those found in the 2010 Census and American Community Survey estimates for adults in Marin. The primary objective of weighting survey data is to make the survey respondents reflective of the larger population of the community. The characteristics used for weighting were housing tenure (rent or own), housing unit type (attached or detached), sex and age.

Data Analysis

The survey data set was analyzed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS).

Voluntary Supplemental "Opt In" Survey Results

The opt-in survey opened on on December 10, 2018 and closed on January 31, 2019. Some 3,068 residents completed the survey anonymously, providing an opportunity for those who were not randomly selected to voice their opinions.

The opt-in survey was available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. In addition, paper copies of the opt-in survey were distributed to community-based organizations throughout the County to engage clients of their services as well as residents in their communities. Of the 3,068 opt-in surveys received, 34 were completed by mail; 99 percent were completed online.

Similar to the random sample survey, respondents were compared to those found in the 2010 Census and American Community Survey estimates for adults in Marin to make the survey respondents reflective of the larger population of the community. The characteristics used for weighting were tenure, housing unit type, race, ethnicity, sex and age. Due to the later time period, these results are still in draft form but will be posted once available. 

Prior Community Survey Data

The County of Marin last conducted a resident survey in 2009, using a random telephone sample of county residents. Since then, many homeowners have disconnected their landlines, making random telephone sampling more difficult. Because of this trend, mailed surveys were selected for the 2018 random sample survey. Mailed surveys have a higher confidence rate, eliminating potential interviewer bias and allowing the respondent to fill out the survey at their convenience.  In addition, National Research Center’s National Citizen Survey provides Marin County the opportunity to benchmark its data to other communities nationwide.

More Information

For more information on the methodology of the Marin County Resident Survey, please view the Technical Appendices of the report.