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Attitude Strength and Structure Regarding Privatization of Local Public Park and Recreation Services

Nicholas Pitas, Andrew J. Mowen, Derrick Taff, Benjamin Hickerson, Rama Radhakrishna, Alan Graefe

Abstract


As tax-based funding for local public park and recreation services becomes increasingly scarce, alternative funding strategies have received increased attention. Privatization, any activity that reduces the public’s role in the financing and delivery of such services, has garnered particular scrutiny. Privatization is simultaneously a promising tool for public park agencies, and a potentially controversial and contentious issue. However, existing research has provided an incomplete picture of privatization in the local public park and recreation context. Previous studies are limited by the localized nature of their samples, as well as their emphasis on dichotomous attitude measurements, which do not fully address attitude strength and structure. To address these gaps, this study used a nationally representative sample to examine cognitive factors that relate to attitudes toward the concept of park privatization as a whole, and toward specific privatization practices. Results indicate only a modest level of attitudinal ambivalence among respondents, indicating that privatization of park and recreation services may not be a highly controversial topic among the general public. Attitudes toward privatization as a whole were moderately positive across the entire sample; however, there were significant variations in acceptability among individual practices (i.e., corporate sponsorship, outsourcing, and the outright sale of public park facilities). Social ideology, attitudinal ambivalence, and knowledge about privatization were shown to be consistent predictors of attitudes toward privatization, while economic ideology was less consistently significant. Social conservatives with greater attitudinal ambivalence and knowledge of privatization were generally more positive toward privatization as a whole, and toward individual privatization practices. Privatization practices in the delivery of park and recreation services are likely to be part of the new reality for many public agencies. As such, a more comprehensive understanding of the factors that influence the acceptability of these practices will be crucial. This study illustrated that several cognitive factors are significantly related to attitudes toward privatization. For practitioners and decision makers considering implementing one or more of these practices, as well as national professional groups advocating for public parks and recreation, such information may be of significant value. Future research should continue to explore and refine the concept of attitudinal ambivalence as it applies to park privatization practices. Based on the influence of social ideology found in this study, future research must also examine additional factors such as personal value orientation for any potential relationship to attitudes and support for privatization.

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Keywords


Ambivalence; ideology; local parks and recreation; privatization

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.18666/JPRA-2018-V36-I3-8442

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