A new national poll shows that electric cooperatives continue to earn high marks from consumer-members on specific performance issues, but there has been some slippage in members’ overall satisfaction and bonding with their electric co-op since a strong pre-pandemic survey in 2019.
The trend coincides with members reporting a less positive view of their local economy, says Keith Frederick of FrederickPolls.
The new insights come from online and telephone interviews FrederickPolls conducted this spring with 750 residents in electric co-op service territories across the country.
Frederick says the study found, among other things, that political interest and participation among co-op members remains strong in the run-up to the midterm elections this fall.
It also showed that co-ops have significant market share opportunities in broadband deployment. However, to strengthen their position against competitors, Frederick says co-ops should communicate their local connections and track record of service and benefits.
• Electric co-op members are much less positive about the country’s direction (28% “right direction”) than they are about their own local economy (62% positive). The national direction number mirrors what other national polls are showing; the local economy rating is a significant drop from 80% in 2019.
• This pessimism may be influencing members’ feelings toward their electric co-ops. While overall job ratings are still 89% positive, the “very positive” rating has slipped significantly from always over 60% to 49% in this year’s survey.
• Also, compared to previous years, fewer respondents consider themselves “members” (now 25% vs. 37% in 2019) and “owners” of the co-op (41% now vs. 45% in 2019).
• On electric rates, 50% say what they pay for their household’s electricity is “too high.” This is up from 41% in 2019 and higher than historical trends. However, the 2022 measure is below the 53% “too high” response in 2018.
• On specific co-op performance questions, ratings overall have held up, but the intensity of positive ratings has slipped.
Co-ops are still rated higher than 90% positive for “reliability” (92%) and “restoring outages” (91%).
Co-ops are steady at 82% positive for “communicating” and “keeping you informed” about co-op actions.
They are consistently positive for being a “trusted source” for information (79%), a “partner with you” in controlling energy use (77%) and working to “reduce carbon emissions” (74%).
Regardless of the performance of their current internet provider, 66% say they would be interested in high-speed broadband service. Another 13% say their interest depends upon the cost of broadband.
In a two-way choice, the “best trusted provider” of broadband starts off favoring “nationally known companies like AT&T, Google or Verizon” by 54% to 35% over the local electric co-op. But, after hearing seven pro co-op messages, that preference for broadband provider flips to 60% for the co-op vs 35% for the national companies.
The co-op advantages included:
• Locally run; know the local area and employ local people.
• Owned by local residents and ratepayers so the co-op keeps the money local instead of sending profits to Wall Street.
• Already have the poles and wires needed to build out broadband.
• Keeps federal infrastructure funds at home.
Trends on co-op member political activity are consistent with previous surveys.
Participation has increased on two measures: 73% say they “vote in every election” (+4 percentage points from 2019) and 34% say they have posted political views on a social media site (+3 percentage points).
Sixty-three percent want to receive alerts about legislation or regulatory actions, and half want to be asked to contact an elected representative about a co-op issue.
The following charts and graphs break out further details from the survey.