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ODU Survey Finds Local Residents See Themselves as Satisfied and Healthy

Tancy J. Vandecar-Burdin

Life is good. At least residents of Hampton Roads think so, according to a recent study conducted by Old Dominion University's Social Science and Research Center (SSRC). The center, which conducted a comprehensive telephone survey to gauge perceptions and attitudes regarding a variety of local issues, found that most residents of the area see themselves as healthy (82.6 percent) and satisfied with their lives (84.7 percent).

"This survey gives us a pulse of residents in our area," said Tancy J. Vandecar-Burdin, associate director of the SSRC.

The scope of the questions was broad and included perceptions of the media, arts, transportation, politics, the environment, education and overall quality of life. Some of the more interesting survey findings included: 47.6 percent of respondents believe that immigrants (legal or otherwise) will take jobs away from people already in Hampton Roads; 21.5 percent label global warming "an environmental hoax"; and 41.9 percent believe that gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to legally marry.

The findings, which were released this week, are the result of nearly 700 telephone interviews with residents of Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Portsmouth and Suffolk from the end of May through early July. Funded by the ODU Office of Research, the random-sample survey will be conducted on an annual basis for at least the next three years to provide the community and ODU faculty access to data to assist in their own research.

"This data will develop a baseline of social indicators for the Hampton Roads area," said Vandecar-Burdin. "This has been a unique opportunity for the SSRC and ODU, and we are extremely grateful to be able to conduct this research to learn more about the ways in which residents of Hampton Roads see themselves and their community."

The survey, which was conducted before the announcement of the proposed U.S. Joint Forces Command closing in Suffolk, found that 66.5 percent of respondents believed that economic conditions were fair or poor in Hampton Roads and that 86.6 percent believed the same about the United States as a whole.

When it comes to politics, 38.2 percent of the sample answered that they are extremely conservative, conservative or slightly conservative, with almost a quarter of respondents reporting being extremely liberal, liberal or slightly liberal. The remainder, nearly one-third, consider themselves moderate.

The survey revealed some surprising findings about the ways in which Hampton Roads residents live their lives. Only a third of those polled turn to a printed newspaper for their daily news; a similar percentage reported daily use of online sites for news. Over half reported using social media such as Facebook, Twitter or MySpace.

Every day, many people in Hampton Roads deal with one or more of 11 drawbridges and five bridge-tunnels, traversing them for work, family activities and cultural events. However, survey questions about transportation found that only 6.3 percent of people reported using public transportation "in the past week," including buses and taxis.

Among the respondents, 43.9 percent reported that they would be more likely to use public transportation once the much-anticipated light rail trains become available. Another 24.4 percent stated that they might possibly use light rail. Asked where they would like to see light rail extended, respondents gave the following as the top three destinations: Virginia Beach (62.9 percent), Norfolk International Airport (46.9 percent) and Chesapeake (40.4 percent). Only 6.3 percent stated they didn't want light rail extended at all. Almost half (46.5 percent) of respondents said they have avoided visiting a business in a neighboring city "within the past month" due to traffic concerns.

Concerning their neighborhood, 69 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that police are doing a good job of preventing crime. More than half of the sample reported that they were not afraid for their safety, nor did they believe they or anyone in their household would be the victim of any serious crime.

Responding to a question about cultural events, more than half of those surveyed stated that they had attended an exhibition, such as a museum or gallery showing, concert or other performance, in Hampton Roads during the past year. Of those who did not attend an event, 24.1 percent cited cost as an obstacle and 23.9 percent confessed a lack of interest.

"This survey is a rarity in terms of its scope and sequence," said Robert Wojtowicz, ODU professor of art history and associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Arts and Letters. "The SSRC has provided us with comprehensive data about the way residents view the economy, military, transportation and a wide range of other issues. ODU continues to be a leading research driver in the area."

About the Survey

The survey, which was funded by the ODU Office of Research, was compiled, in part, from questions submitted by various ODU faculty members. Of the 681 citizens interviewed, 53 percent are white, 35.2 percent black or African American, and 11.1 percent other race/ethnicity. Just over half of the respondents received a high school diploma or attended some college. An additional 31.4 percent have completed an undergraduate or graduate degree.

The majority of respondents are married and fewer than 15 percent are divorced, separated or widowed. Nearly one-quarter of those surveyed are single and not living with a partner, while a small portion of single people do report living with a partner. The majority of respondents live in Virginia Beach (30.4 percent) and Chesapeake (17.7 percent). The majority of survey participants ages 64 and under are employed (72.9 percent); of all respondents who are employed, 18.2 percent work part time, while 81.8 percent work full time. Nearly 13 percent of the respondents are retired. Regarding family household income, 17.5 percent of respondents earned $30,000 or less last year, while 25.3 percent earned more than $80,000.

This article was posted on: November 3, 2010

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