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2014 Life in Hampton Roads Survey, Part 2: Economy, Crime and Politics

A "good place to live" often has a vibrant economy, is well governed, and has an effective, well respected police force with little crime. Is Hampton Roads such a place?

The 2014 Life in Hampton Roads survey just released by Old Dominion University asked residents their thoughts.

The survey is designed to peer into social and economic indicators of quality of life in Hampton Roads, with particular focus placed on transportation and traffic, local and state government, education, health, emergency preparedness, the economy and crime.

LIHR survey reports include:

  • "Regional, Neighborhood and City Quality of Life" (Aug. 18, 2014)
  • A Tale of Many Cities: Economy, Crime, and Politics (Aug.19, 2014)
  • Declining Health and Diminishing Education? (Aug. 20, 2014)
  • The Changing Transportation Picture: Tolls and Traffic (Aug. 21, 2014)
  • Under Water? Sea Level Rise and Environmental Risks (Aug. 22, 2014)

Released today, part two of the survey, "A Tale of Many Cities: Economy, Crime and Politics" highlights regional and sub-regional measures of economy, crime and political perceptions. Additional graphs and analyses of these measures are available on the Social Science Research Center website.

Old Dominion survey Director Jesse Richman said perceptions of the local economy, of police and crime and of local politics are studies in contrasts.

Economy

While economic conditions are considered to be improving, less than half see conditions as good or excellent. There is wide variation across Hampton Roads cities in the extent to which residents believe public resources are being used wisely. Approval ratings of police are declining but public opinion also varies substantially city to city and across racial groups.

The percentage of survey respondents rating Hampton Roads' economic conditions as excellent or good is at the highest level recorded in five years of surveys. The 42.3 percent that reported the economic conditions in Hampton Roads as good is almost 5% higher than in 2013 (37.5 percent) and is almost double the percentage from 2011 (21.9 percent). The portion of participants not employed and looking for work is also the lowest recorded in the survey, at 7.8 percent (down from 9.1 percent last year).

Government

Though still less than half of all respondents, more respondents (42.1 percent) reported that local government uses resources wisely in 2014 than in any other year.

Among respondents who expressed an opinion about local government resource use (i.e. wisely or unwisely), the portion who perceive wise use of resources was highest for Chesapeake (54.8 percent) and also at or above 50 percent for Norfolk (51.8 percent) and Virginia Beach (50 percent). Hampton and Newport News were in the middle range (47.1 percent and 45.3 percent), while Suffolk and Portsmouth had the lowest public perceptions of wise local government resource use (35.7 percent and 33.3 percent, respectively).

"Clearly some cities in Hampton Roads have a more favorable reputation for wise use of public resources than others," Richman said, also noting: "Norfolk is particularly strong in this category, relative to its performance in other cross-city comparisons in the survey."

Crime

Crime was the most commonly cited reason for giving the region a low quality of life rating in 2014, and perceptions of local police are also suffering. In the three years the LIHR survey has asked about satisfaction with local police, the portion of respondents reporting that they are very or somewhat dissatisfied has never been higher. The portion somewhat or very satisfied with local police has declined from 88.7 percent in 2012 to 86.1 percent in 2013, and now 84.1 percent in 2014.

But Richman suggested that this decline "likely does not result from increased crime," since only 5.6 percent of Hampton Roads residents reported being the victim of a serious crime - a figure essentially unchanged since the first year of the survey.

Further, perceptions of the police vary widely across cities. Less than half of Virginia Beach residents (47.2 percent) and 44 percent of Suffolk residents reported being very satisfied with their local police compared to 26.8 percent of Norfolk residents and 29.3 percent of Portsmouth residents.

"Recent high profile cases in the city of Norfolk have likely played a role in depressing satisfaction with the police there," Richman suggested.

Race also plays a substantial role in perceptions of the police in Hampton Roads. Overall, 48.8 percent of white respondents indicated they were very satisfied with the local police, compared with only 25.3 percent of non-whites, and more than twice as many nonwhites (7.4 percent) were very dissatisfied, compared to whites (2.6 percent).

For the first time the survey also examined under-reporting of crime. According to the survey, one in five serious crimes were not reported to the police.

"This statistic clearly shows that citizens did not have lots of confidence in the police, and there is a need for more police work in community consultation and mobilization," said Mengyan Dai, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at ODU.

In regards to public perceptions about local crime, governance, and economic performance, Richman said the survey "highlights important ongoing challenges - maintaining the credibility and effectiveness of the police force, using scarce public resources wisely and building the strength of the local economy. But it also suggests we are moving in the right direction overall."

All Life In Hampton Roads Data Analyses will be placed on the Social Science Research Center website as they are released (www.odu.edu/ssrc).

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