By Joe Garvey

A survey of Hampton Roads residents offers some reasons for optimism for candidates of both major parties ahead of November’s General Assembly elections.

But a large group of independent and undecided voters will likely determine whether Democrats or Republicans carry the day.

Those are among the findings in the 2023 Life in Hampton Roads survey regarding politics and political opinions. This is one of the chapters in the 14th annual Life in Hampton Roads survey conducted by Old Dominion University’s Social Science Research Center.

A total of 610 telephone surveys across the seven cities that comprise Hampton Roads were completed between June 6 and Aug. 25.

On Nov. 7, voters will decide on the makeup of the General Assembly. All 100 seats in the House of Delegates and 40 seats in the state Senate will be on the ballot. Democrats have a 22-18 edge in the Senate; Republicans have a 49-46 advantage in the House (there are five vacant seats). In Hampton Roads, this includes eight Senate seats and 19 House seats.

The survey looked at the region as a whole; it does not break down results by individual districts. This will be the first election using the new districts drawn by special masters hired by the Virginia Supreme Court after the redistricting commission deadlocked.

Nearly twice as many respondents said they felt closest to the Democratic Party than those who felt closest to the Republican Party (31.5% vs. 16.3%), and Democratic affiliation was up by nearly four percentage points from 2022.

But those who identified as independents (32.2%) made up the biggest bloc, and more than 20% of respondents identified as something else or didn’t give a preference.

Furthermore, nearly half of the respondents did not see themselves as liberal or conservative, and more than 25% did not know or wouldn’t say which candidates they would vote for.

“Winning over individuals who are not affiliated with either major party and the non-ideological, non-partisan respondents is a challenge and an opportunity for both parties,” said Jesse Richman, associate professor of political science and geography and lead author of this chapter. “Many respondents do not feel that close to either party.”

The survey indicates that Democrats may have an edge in local House races. Almost two-thirds of likely voters who had made up their mind said they planned to vote for a Democratic candidate, compared to 31.3% of those who said they would vote for a Republican. This is a substantial swing from the 2021 House of Delegates election, when 45.8% of Hampton Roads voters supported Republicans and 53.7% backed Democrats.

“This suggests Republicans may have some significant ground to make up if they want to avoid House of Delegates seat losses in the Hampton Roads area,” Richman said.

Things look better for Republicans in the Senate. Likely voters’ support for Democrats is down slightly from the last Senate election in 2019, when they garnered 64.2% of the vote, and Republican support is up slightly.

“The results for the Virginia Senate offer some modest encouragement for Republicans concerning their prospects in that chamber,” Richman said.

The abortion issue could play a significant role, with more than 80% of respondents saying it would be at least somewhat important in making their decision. More than 70% of respondents said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with only about 5% saying it should be illegal in all cases. Even among respondents with a more moderate position, more than 40% saw the issue as very important.

Among respondents who said abortion was a very important issue, about two-thirds said they would support Democratic House and Senate candidates.

“In 2022, Democrats performed relatively well in the midterm Congressional elections by emphasizing the abortion issue,” Richman said. “These results suggest that the abortion issue continues to be an advantage for Democrats in Hampton Roads.”

You can read the full politics and political opinions chapter at this link.

The Life in Hampton Roads survey is designed to gain insight into residents’ perceptions of the quality of life in the region as well as other topics of local interest, such as perceptions of police, the economy, education and health. The remainder of the survey will be released in the coming months.