A year or two from now, outsiders will view Waco the same as they did before the Mount Carmel siege, say 68 percent of McLennan County respondents to a poll released Thursday.
About 20 percent felt the city of Waco would have a worse image than before the siege.
“Twelve percent said better, and their comments that went along with that were ‘well, people will know where Waco is,’” said Tillman Rodabough, Baylor sociology professor and pollster.
As an example, Rodabough said, while driving back to Waco once during the siege, he heard an advertisement for a car dealership in Dallas saying it’s north of Waco.
The poll of 469 respondents was conducted by Baylor University’s Center for Community Research and Development. The poll has a 4.5 percent margin of error.
Researchers chose random telephone numbers to call from April 13 to April 19, finishing before the Branch Davidian complex burned to the ground.
Larry Lyon, a Baylor sociology professor and one of the pollsters, said the Images of Waco Foundation, a group concerned about the city’s image, commissioned the poll.
The foundation handed out a free copy of “Images of Waco,” a videotape extolling the virtues of Waco, to media attending a press conference announcing the poll results.
“They were concerned that the image of Waco being portrayed to the outside world may not be accurately reflecting the actual relationship between Mount Carmel and the people living here,” Lyon said.
He said researchers developed questions to determine two things.
The first was how outsiders perceive the community’s connection to the cult. The second was the actual relationship between the people in Waco and the Mount Carmel cult.
“We discovered that the outside perception of the relationship is quite a bit at odds to the actual relationship,” Lyon said. “What we’re going to try to do with this survey is explain the differences between how people external to this community view us and how to the best of our abilities the situation really is.”
Researchers addressed the differences by asking questions like “would you say that most of the people who asked you about Mount Carmel initially expected you to have personal information about the raid and the stand-off?”
For 51 percent of the respondents, the answer was yes, surprising to researchers since 95 percent of respondents answered in another question that they knew little or nothing at all about Mount Carmel prior to Feb. 27. That day the Tribune-Herald’s “Sinful Messiah” series began.
Lyon said the poll results were important because the Mount Carmel stand-off “is an unprecedented event in Waco’s history” in terms of attention focused on Waco by the “media-driven phenomena.”
He said it surpasses even the 1953 tornado that destroyed part of downtown Waco, killed 114 people and injured more than 1,000.
“The irony there is that this compound has had almost no effect on the people in the community,” Lyon said. “We don’t know the people out there. We’d never seen the compound.”
The Center also is conducting another poll, which began Tuesday. Pollsters ask many of the same questions to see if things have changed since the standoff ended in tragedy.
Lyon said a key question will be if more respondents think the Mount Carmel siege will change outsiders’ perceptions of the community since the tragic ending.
“Now that the situation has been resolved in almost the worst possible way — at least there’s no loss of FBI life — but goodness, all the children,” he said. “It would be interesting to see the degree to which Wacoans now assess the effect on the image of Waco.”
The completed poll’s other results show that almost 50 percent of respondents believe the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms did a good job conducting the Feb. 28 raid, while 40.6 percent said the ATF did a poor job.
Two-thirds of respondents were asked about the stand-off from someone outside the community.
Two age groups stand ahead of others in the Waco population: one for ages 18- to 24-years, and the other adults 65 or older.
Those 65 years old or older were more likely to support the ATF — 72 percent — while people from 40 to 49 years old were least likely with 41 percent of the age group supportive.
Rodabough said the results followed a general trend in society where older people trust law enforcement the most, and minorities the least, because of each group’s experiences.