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ODU Survey Finds Local Residents Satisfied with Their Lives

While local residents are satisfied with their own lives, they perceive an overall decline in the quality of life in Hampton Roads, according to a recent study conducted by Old Dominion University's Social Science and Research Center (SSRC). For the second year in a row, the center conducted a comprehensive telephone survey to gauge perceptions and attitudes regarding a variety of local issues.

The survey reveals a 21.3 percent drop in local respondents' positive perceptions of economic conditions in the region. In 2010, 80.5 percent of respondents rated the quality of life in the region as "excellent" or "good," while in 2011 only 59.2 percent did so. Despite this decline, 92.8 percent of respondents indicated that they were satisfied with their own life, an 8 percent increase over last year.

"For the second year in a row, this survey gives us a pulse of how residents in our area feel," said Tancy Vandecar-Burdin, associate director of the SSRC.

The findings, which were released this week, are the result of 730 telephone interviews with randomly selected residents of Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Portsmouth and Suffolk from the end of May through early July. The scope of the questions was broad and included perceptions of transportation, politics, social issues, the environment, education and overall quality of life.

While a different population was used in this year's sample and cell phone numbers were called in addition to landline numbers, the survey questions and methods of collection and calculation remained similarly structured to last year's study. Funded this year by the ODU offices of Research and University Advancement, the random-sample survey will offer ODU faculty access to data to assist in their own research as well as provide information that could be used by local and regional planners and other organizations.

"This year, we saw people continued to report being satisfied with their lives in general; however, the outlook for the region and the nation in terms of quality of life and/or economic conditions seems less optimistic compared to last year," said Vandecar-Burdin.

"To put the results in context, since the 2010 survey, we saw the announcement and partial closing of JFCOM here in Hampton Roads and the continued inability of national leaders to come to agreement on key fiscal issues. These, and many other factors, are just two examples that come to mind that may help explain some of the differences from last year to this year," she noted.

Public transportation proved a hot topic for respondents. The 2011 survey, which was conducted one to three months prior to the launch of Hampton Roads Transit's (HRT) light rail train, The Tide, found that 31 percent of respondents (a 12 percent decline from last year) said they would be more likely to use public transportation once light rail became available, while 43.1 percent indicated they would not (a 13.5 percent increase from 2010). Of those who reported that they would not "Ride the Tide," 23.4 percent said they did not want to see light rail extended in the area.

There was support for having light rail extended, however, from other respondents; desired locations included Virginia Beach (69 percent), Norfolk International Airport (43.2 percent) and the Norfolk Naval Base (39.1 percent). These responses saw mild fluctuations from last year to this year.

Hampton Roads residents reported somewhat less trust in their government in 2011. When asked, "How much of the time do you think you can trust the local government to do what is right?" those who said "most of the time" comprised 34.5 percent of the sample in 2011, but 39.3 percent in 2010. The percentage of respondents that said "almost never" was 15.8 this year, compared to 9.9 the prior year.

In the realm of politics, the survey reflected a decrease in support for the Tea Party. Almost 50 percent of respondents said they disagree with the statement, "The Tea Party is the kind of grass roots movement that we need to reform the political system in the United States," as compared to 2010 when only 35.4 percent of the respondents disagreed with this statement. Thirty-two percent of respondents (35 percent in 2010) agreed with the statement.

Global warming remained a controversial topic in the region. This year, 49 percent of respondents viewed the subject as a serious environmental problem, compared to 42.4 percent in 2010. However, 26.2 percent of respondents indicated that they viewed global warming as a hoax, as compared with 21.5 percent the previous year.

Support for allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally in Virginia increased slightly, from 41.9 percent - "agree" or "strongly agree" - in 2010 to 44 percent this year.

"We are again pleased with the breadth and depth of the survey," said Vandecar-Burdin. "For the second year in a row, we have comprehensive data about the way residents view the economy, transportation and government, 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 offices of Research and University Advancement, was compiled, in part, from questions submitted by various ODU faculty members. Of the 730 citizens interviewed, 63.2 percent are white, 30.3 percent black or African American, and 6.5 percent other race/ethnicity. Forty percent of the respondents received a high school diploma or attended some college. An additional 35.4 percent have completed an undergraduate or graduate degree.

The majority of respondents are married and fewer than 19 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 (29.3 percent) and Chesapeake (17.7 percent). The majority of survey participants are employed (59.3 percent). Nearly 23 percent of the respondents are retired. Regarding family household income, 21.2 percent of respondents earned $30,000 or less last year, while 29.8 percent earned more than $80,000.

A weight variable was computed separately for each year, and the data files were weighted to correct for discrepancies in age, race and gender between the survey sample and the general Hampton Roads population. The 2011 sample was also weighted based on estimates of the population based on telephone usage, landline versus cell phone. All results reported come from the weighted samples.

Since cell phone numbers were not included in the 2010 sample, the data reported for 2011 here reflects respondents who indicated that they had a working phone in their home that was not a cell phone. All "cell-only" respondents were removed from the 2011 data used in this report before weights were applied. The removal of cell phone-only respondents from the 2011 sample was done only in order to compare data between 2010 and 2011. Removing respondents who are reachable only via cell phone has the effect of under-representing minority respondents, males and younger respondents. While the weighting of the data corrects for these issues when the entire 2011 sample is considered, the full sample (including the cell-only respondents) is not comparable to the 2010 sample, given that cell phones were not called in 2010 and thus no "cell-only" respondents participated in 2010.

This article was posted on: September 29, 2011

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