Virginians report themselves happy with the quality of their lives in Virginia, according to the 12th annual Quality of Life (QOL) in Virginia Survey, conducted by the Virginia Tech Center for Survey Research (CSR). But concern about the economy is growing.

"The survey is designed to allow citizens to voice their opinions regarding numerous aspects of life in their communities, in the commonwealth, and in the nation," says Susan M. Willis-Walton, CSR co-director. "The results provide a mechanism for local and state governments to monitor citizens' perceptions of services."

"With 12 years of data having now been collected, a long-term vision of change and stability in the preferences and opinions of Virginians regarding life in the commonwealth is being developed," says Alan Bayer, CSR co-director.

For instance, a substantial change in the perceptions of citizens regarding the economy in Virginia and in the nation is evident over the past several years, says Bayer. "Perceptions among Virginians have continued to become more negative with regard to the economy in Virginia. Virginians' confidence regarding the U.S. economy decreased substantially this year to be congruent with perceptions regarding the economy in Virginia. Only 58 percent agreed that both the U.S. economy and the Virginia economy are improving. In 2002, 73 percent of Virginians viewed the U.S. economy as improving, and 67 percent said the state economy was improving. From 1997 through 2000, confidence was near 80 percent."

Perceptions regarding the economy reflect personal concerns, says Willis-Walton. "More Virginians (42 percent) worry 'often' or 'sometimes' that someone in their family or household will lose their job. And finding work is one of the lowest rated aspects of Virginia included on the survey, with 56 percent rating Virginia as an 'excellent' or 'good' place to find a job -- down since last year when 63 percent rated the commonwealth as either an 'excellent' or 'good' place to find a job," she says. Respondents residing in the Virginia's urban crescent (Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Hampton Roads) are more favorable with regard to Virginia as a place to find a job (63 percent rating Virginia as either 'excellent' or 'good') than are residents of the remainder of the state, where 48 percent rate Virginia as either 'excellent' or 'good' on this aspect, she added.

Virginians feel safer in their neighborhoods, if not outside the country. Although the majority of Virginians (73 percent) still worry 'often' or 'sometimes' that more acts of terrorism will occur in the United States, perceptions regarding the threat of potential acts of terrorism within the U.S. have decreased since 2002 when 81 percent of Virginians said that they worried 'often' or 'sometimes' about the potential of terrorist acts. Almost eight in 10 Virginians (77 percent) worry 'often' or 'sometimes' that Americans will be targeted for acts of terrorism outside the United States. Additionally, many citizens feel that U.S. air travel is not safe from terrorists.

Six in 10 citizens say that Virginia spends 'about the right amount' on protecting Virginia against terrorism, but 62 percent either 'strongly' or 'somewhat' agree that the United States should spend more on national defense.

Virginians continue to rate the quality of their local law enforcement favorably - with 83 percent reporting that they feel either 'very safe' or 'somewhat safe' when walking alone at night in their neighborhood. However, as is consistent with previous years, women are less likely than men to feel safe in their neighborhoods.

Life is good, but worries persist

The majority of Virginians rate the commonwealth favorably on most aspects of life, congruent with the findings from the prior QOL surveys, says Bayer. Indeed, 86 percent rate Virginia overall as either an 'excellent' or 'good' place to live.

Education is rated the most favorably; 87 percent rate college or university education in the commonwealth as either 'excellent' or 'good,' and 80 percent of respondents rate Virginia as either an 'excellent' or 'good' place for young people to get an education through grade 12. More than half of Virginians (54 percent) agree that student scores on standardized tests (Standards of Learning) should be used to judge how well schools are doing; and eight in 10 agree that public schools should teach sex education. But, when asked about the level of state spending in Virginia for K-12 public schools, 59 percent of Virginians say that 'not enough' is being spent. When asked about state spending for public colleges and universities, less than half (42 percent) of citizens say that the spending level is 'not enough.' Virginians report that they are 'very' or 'somewhat' satisfied with their family relationships (95 percent), the quality of their current housing (94 percent), and their friendships (93 percent). Almost eight in 10 (78 percent) are satisfied with their income and financial situation. Fewer (73 percent) are satisfied with available free time. Slightly more than seven in 10 Virginians (71 percent) rate the commonwealth as either an 'excellent' or 'good' place to retire, with the same percentage of respondents rating Virginia in the same terms regarding air quality and for entertainment and cultural activities. Three-fourths of citizens rate Virginia as either 'excellent' or 'good' as a place to take a vacation (76 percent), a place with clean water (75 percent), and as a place to obtain quality medical care (74 percent).

Virginians express the least satisfaction with the cost of their present medical care (64 percent satisfied). Slightly more than three-fourths of Virginians (76 percent) report that they have private health insurance coverage. "This is a substantial decrease in private insurance coverage among Virginians since 2001, when 85 percent had coverage," reports Willis-Walton. "When asked how often they worry that someone in their family or household will have a serious illness not fully covered by insurance, 52 percent report that they worry about this 'often' or 'sometimes', up from 47 percent last year."

A substantial majority of citizens (59 percent) -- particularly younger Virginians (67 percent) and women (64 percent) -- worry that money from Social Security will not be available for their entire lifetime after retirement.

Government is okay

New questions this year also explored citizens' trust in government and their political participation. While most Virginians (65 percent) agree that government is generally responsive to public opinion, less than half (45 percent) agree that the average person in America has a great deal of influence on government decisions. However, 47 percent report they did not contact a member of their local government about any issue in the last year and 56 percent did not attend any local government or political meeting during the past year. "Virginians are generally active in their communities, if not as active politically," says Willis-Walton. More than half of citizens (53 percent) say that they volunteered 'often' or 'sometimes' in their community in the past year -- down from 60 percent in 2002.

The majority of Virginians (54 percent) agree that the government can be trusted to do what is right, while exactly half of Virginians agree with the statement "government workers usually do less work than those who work for private companies."

This spring, 77 percent of Virginians said they thought that George W. Bush was doing a good job for the country -- down from spring 2002, when 83 percent of Virginians agreed that President George W. Bush was doing a good job. Almost three-quarters of Virginians (74 percent) think that overall, Governor Mark Warner is doing a good job for Virginia -- down from 77 percent last year.

Opinions on social issues

When asked generally about state spending for 'welfare programs,' less than half of Virginians (42 percent) say state spending is 'about right,' 14 percent think there is 'too much,' 22 percent say there is 'not enough' state spending in this area, and 21 percent were undecided. However, Virginians express some support for increasing state income taxes to support programs that provide assistance to poor families (44 percent agree with this measure). In addition:

• 31 percent think there is 'not enough' spending on public housing for low-income families.

• 39 percent think that 'not enough' is being spent on programs which assist low-income working mothers with the costs of child care.

• 41 percent think 'not enough' is being spent on programs that provide assistance to poor families.

• 48 percent think 'not enough' is being spent on programs that help with health care costs for those who can't afford them.

• 51 percent think there is 'not enough' spending on social services for the elderly.

"Groups who receive the most citizen support are the elderly, those who cannot afford health care, and those who work. This distinction may also be seen most prominently in the difference in support for programs when only minor changes in question wording are made," says Willis-Walton. "More respondents assert that 'not enough' is being spent on 'programs which provide assistance to poor families' than is the case for 'welfare programs.' These differences in support with only slight wording changes reflect the existence of assumptions regarding 'welfare programs' among Virginians that are not evident in other social welfare policy domains." Indeed, almost six in 10 Virginians (58 percent) believe that "most people who receive welfare are abusing the system" and almost all Virginians (98 percent) agree that "people who receive welfare should be required to work if they are able," she says. "However, Virginians are growing less supportive in recent years of a policy requiring a two year maximum limit on support to families who are receiving welfare," which dropped from 78 percent in 2000 to 66 percent in 2003.

"Agreement among Virginians regarding the statement that 'the country's race relations are currently improving' has been increasing slightly," says Bayer. This year, 73 percent of Virginians agreed. Respondents who identify themselves as white are more likely to agree (77 percent), while respondents who identify themselves as black are less likely to agree that race relations are improving in the nation (56 percent). More than half of Virginians (52 percent) believe that Affirmative Action and equal opportunity programs give an unfair advantage to minority individuals. Men are more likely than women to view these programs as unfair (56 percent vs. 49 percent); and white respondents are more likely than black respondents (55 percent vs. 38 percent) to have this view.

"There has been a substantial reversal in the trend of decreasing support for the death penalty by Virginians in recent years," observes Bayer. The majority of Virginians support the death penalty for convicted murderers, with 77 percent of respondents agreeing in 2003 compared to 68 percent in 2002. However, in 2003, when asked about an alternative to the death penalty in which murderers would receive a life sentence without the possibility for parole, 46 percent of respondents agree with the elimination of the death penalty. "Support among Virginians for this alternative has declined since 2002 when more than half (52 percent) supported the alternative."

Opinions on other social issues include:

  • 39 percent agreed this year with the statement "handguns should be made illegal." One-half of women in Virginia agree that handguns should be made illegal, with only 27 percent of men supporting a law banning handgun ownership.
  • 67 percent support abortion as a legal right.
  • 67 percent of Virginians support the legality of physician assistance with ending a person's life when the person has an incurable disease and the person and family request assistance.
  • 83 percent agree that national limits should be set on the cost of prescription medicines.
  • 75 percent agree that doctors should be legally allowed to prescribe marijuana for medical use when it reduces pain from cancer treatment or for other illnesses.
  • 69 percent of Virginians reported that they had recycled in the month before the survey.
  • 3 0 percent indicate that they think the state is not spending enough to protect the environment.
  • 28 percent think state spending is "not enough" for ensuring an adequate future water supply for Virginia.

The subjective indicators yielded from the survey data have traditionally been used by policy- and decision-makers for planning purposes and to supplement objective measures routinely compiled by government agencies. Funding for the survey is provided by the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

The average interview was 19 minutes and 1,099 interviews were completed with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent at the 95 percent level of confidence-- that is, given repeated administration of the survey, results would vary by greater than 3 percent in only 5 out of 100 surveys. Learn more about the center at http://www.csr.vt.edu/ Printed copies of this report are available for $12, including postage and handling. Make check or money order payable to Treasurer, Virginia Tech, and mail to the Virginia Tech Center for Survey Research, Virginia Tech, 207 West Roanoke Street (0543), Blacksburg, VA 24061

Information for this release was drawn from the survey summary prepared by Susan M. Willis-Walton, suwillis@vt.edu, and Alan E. Bayer, yogi@vt.edu, Co-Directors, and Thomas L. Gordon, Data Systems Manager, all at the Virginia Tech Center for Survey Research.

Reach Susan Willis-Walton and Alan Bayer at (540) 231-3695

A PDF version of the survey summary and the questions and answers is available to media representatives from the contact person for this release or from the Virginia Tech news bureau at vtnews@vt.edu or (540) 231-8508.

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