Thrusday, December 31, 1998

Kentuckians just trust folks more

Other Americans leery, survey says

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Kentuckians' trust of their fellow human beings is either a reflection of their goodness or their gullibility.

        Regardless, Kentuckians seem to have a lot of it.

        A policy group study shows 57 percent of Bluegrass residents trust others. But in an earlier national study, only 35 percent of adults asked the same questions said they usually trust others.

        Trust levels for individual states were not broken out for the national study.

        “You hear stories, you hear the way people talk about "the folks in Kentucky,'” said Peter Schirmer, an author of the Kentucky Long-term Policy Research Center study.

        The trust level in Kentucky “doesn't seem out of place,” he said. “It doesn't seem ridicu lously high.”

        The study, titled “Civil Society in Kentucky,” looks at ties that bind the residents of the state and efforts across the commonwealth to help one another.

        It surveyed 650 non-institutionalized Kentuckians 18 or older and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

        While traveling around the state conducting other studies, researchers read the newspapers in various small towns and started thinking.

        “We don't really talk a whole lot about some of the good things that are going on around the state, particularly at the local level,” Mr. Schirmer said.

        Their survey focused on attitudes and activities in civil society. People were asked whether they are more likely to trust or be wary of others. They also responded to ques tions on civic pride, community involvement and their sense of safety.

        “There does seem to be a pretty significant gap” between the state and national surveys, Mr. Schirmer said.

        One factor could be, he said, that Kentuckians may think of a neighbor when asked whether they trust others, as opposed to someone in New York, who might think of an international business competitor.

        The study found a connection between the people who trust, how much schooling they've had and how often they attend church, Mr. Schirmer said.

        Kentucky isn't known as one of the most-educated states in the union, so that probably wouldn't explain why more Kentuckians trust, he said.

        “The church might,” he said. “It's probably something else. I suspect, maybe, it's just part of our culture.”

        Former Kentucky legislator William Schmaedecke spent more than two decades deciding whether to trust his fellow citizens as a Kenton District judge. He is retiring, with Wednesday his last day on the bench.

        “Each person merits their own trust or lack of trust from a judge's standpoint,” he said.

        Judge Schmaedecke said he's not convinced Kentuckians are unique. “I think they're just people, just damn fine people,” he said.

        Historian Jim Claypool of Northern Kentucky University said the trust factor originates in people's roots. Regardless of class, families are tight. Many people stayed, and as a result, trusted people because they knew them.

        “That's what I've always found to be true. There's a great deal of local identity in Kentucky,” he said, pointing to the way people identify themselves as being from a certain county.

        “You trust people you know, and you trust people you've had experiences with. That's the way I see it,” Mr. Claypool said. “Of course, the reverse of that is: If you want to get anything done in Kentucky, you'd better know somebody.”


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