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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

February 7, 2018

Wason Center's Annual General Assembly Survey Measures Support of Issues Before Lawmakers

Voters back compromise on Medicaid expansion, support marijuana reform, minimum wage hike.

Summary of Key Findings

  1. Voters support Medicaid expansion by a small majority overall. While Republicans oppose general Medicaid expansion, a majority of Republicans support a compromise partial expansion.
  2. Virginians support decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, making it punishable by fines rather than jail.
  3. Voters support raising the $7.25 minimum wage to $10.10 by 2020.
  4. Two-thirds of voters know someone who has taken prescription opioid painkillers; they support treatment rather than prison for opioid abusers.
  5. Voters would prohibit sending or reading e-mails while driving, but they would not ban all cell phone use while driving. Texting is already illegal.
  6. A majority support amending Virginia’s Constitution to put a non-partisan redistricting commission in charge of drawing new political districts.

For further information contact:

Dr. Quentin Kidd, Director
qkidd@cnu.edu
Office: (757) 594-8499
Mobile: (757) 775-6932

Dr. Rachel Bitecofer, Assistant Director
rachel.bitecofer@cnu.edu
Office: (757) 594-8997
Mobile: (541) 729-9824

Analysis

The State of Things: Virginians are optimistic. Optimism about the direction of the Commonwealth (Q1) has reached a four-year high, with 56% of Virginia voters saying things in Virginia are moving in the right direction. This compares to 36% who say things in the country are heading in the right direction (Q2), an assessment similar to January 2017. Virginia voters are very optimistic about Governor Ralph Northam’s term (Q4), with more than twice as many saying they are optimistic (63%) than pessimistic (27%). Voters give former governor Terry McAuliffe a positive assessment of his four-year term (Q3), with 55% saying they approve of how he handled his job as governor and 32% saying they disapprove. After the dramatic tie in last November’s House of Delegates race in District 94, voters say they do not like breaking such a tie by drawing the winner’s name by lot (Q5), with 62% saying they disapprove of this method and 34% saying they approve. By an overwhelming margin, voters say that despite the dramatic gains by Democrats in the House of Delegates in last November’s election, they want Republicans and Democrats in the closely divided House (Q6) to work across party lines (79%) rather than represent their own party’s voters on issues (18%).

Medicaid Expansion: Support for expansion, but compromise OK.  Voters say they support Medicaid expansion (Q9), 58% to 38%. These numbers are similar to a very similarly worded question in January 2014 at the start of Governor Terry McAuliffe’s term. Then, 56% of voters said they supported expanding the healthcare program. Support is stronger among women and black voters, and weaker though still a majority among men, white voters, and voters from Southwest/Southside. Republicans oppose expansion 66% to 30%, but in House of Delegates and Senate districts represented by Republicans, support for expansion stands at 54%. Democrats strongly support expansion, 85% to 11%, and in House of Delegates and Senate districts held by Democrats, support stands at 61% and 62% respectively.

If an across-the-board expansion cannot make it through the General Assembly, 53% of voters would support a compromise that results in a partial expansion (Q10). Importantly, support for a partial expansion among Republicans overall stands at 54% and support across House of Delegates and Senate districts controlled by either party stands in the mid-50% range. The question of a partial expansion creates a division among Democrats, with 51% saying they would support it and 44% saying they would support only a full expansion.

“While a majority of voters support a full expansion of Medicaid, Republican voters oppose it, and Republicans are still in charge in the General Assembly,” said Dr. Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy. “However, a partial expansion has the support of Republican voters, which may open a path to compromise this session.”

Criminal Justice: Decriminalize marijuana, raise the threshold for felony grand larceny, and put opioid abusers in treatment, not jail.  Voters are very supportive of decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana (Q14) and increasing the dollar threshold at which a theft is a felony (Q15). Most voters know someone who has taken an opioid painkiller (Q25) and support treatment rather than prison time for those who abuse opioid prescription drugs (Q26).

Support for decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana stands at 76% overall and crosses all demographic and partisan categories, dropping to its lowest level (60%) among self-identified Republicans. Overall, 59% of voters support increasing the threshold at which theft is a felony from the current $200 to $1,000. Self-identified Democrats support the proposal at 72% while 59% of self-identified Republicans oppose the proposal.

Just over two-thirds (68%) of Virginia voters know someone who has taken a prescription opioid painkiller in the last two years (Q25). Just over three-fourths (78%) favor providing treatment for individuals who abuse opioid prescription drugs without a prescription, while 13% favor sending them to prison (Q26).

Cell Phones and Driving: Prohibit e-mail, but allow phone calls.  A two-thirds majority (66%) of Virginia voters say that reading or sending e-mails on cell phones while driving should be prohibited (Q11a), but only 42% support banning making or receiving phone calls while driving (Q11b). Nearly two-thirds (61%) oppose banning the use of cell phones for any purpose while driving. These views show broad regional, demographic, and political agreement.

Voting and Election Reform: Allow no-excuse voting and reform the redistricting process.  A small majority (55%) of Virginia voters say they are familiar with the once-a-decade process of redrawing General Assembly and Congressional districts (Q20), a slight increase from a year ago. Voters are very supportive of reducing legislators’ power to draw their own districts. Only 29% of voters say they want to leave redistricting as it currently is done, with legislators drawing the district lines (Q20a), while 65% support the creation of an independent advisory commission to propose redistricting plans to the General Assembly (Q20b) and 61% support amending Virginia’s Constitution to put a non-partisan commission in charge of redistricting. When asked to choose between the three options (Q24), 48% of voters say amend the Constitution, while 26% say create an advisory commission and 18% say leave the process like it is.

A strong majority (69%) of voters support the idea of allowing a 21-day no-excuse absentee voting period before Election Day (Q8). Support is highest among women (72%), African Americans (87%), younger voters (76%), and Democrats (88%), and lowest but still a majority among Republicans (55%) and residents of Southwest/Southside (57%). Interestingly, voters who live in House and Senate districts held by Democrats support this proposal only about 10% more than voters who live in House and Senate districts held by Republicans.

Gun Control: Support, but clear partisan differences.  There is broad support for several gun control measures that have been introduced in the General Assembly in recent years. A strong majority of 84% of voters support background checks for private gun sales (Q16a). Support for this measure is strong across the board, with even 76% of self-identified Republicans saying they support it. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of voters say they support banning assault-style weapons (Q16b), with support highest among women, African Americans, and Democrats, and lower but still a majority among men and younger voters. Republicans are evenly split, with 49% supporting a ban and 49% opposing it. Just over three-fourths (76%) of voters oppose allowing anyone who owns a gun legally to conceal-carry that gun without a permit (Q16c). Opposition is highest among women, Richmond/Central Virginia voters, and Democrats, and lower but still a strong majority among men, residents of Southwest/Southside, and Republicans.

Virginia voters say they generally think it is more important to control who can buy guns than it is to protect the rights of Virginians to own guns (Q19). Just over a majority (54%) say it is more important to control who can buy a gun, with 31% saying they feel that way strongly, while 41% say it is more important to protect the rights of Virginians to own guns, with 29% saying they feel that way strongly. A majority of men, residents of Southwest/Southside, and Republicans say that it is more important to protect the right to own guns.

“We see from these results why Democrats feel comfortable pushing for gun control in Virginia,” said Dr. Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center. “Support for gun control is generally very strong among voters across the populous Golden Crescent, where Democrats win elections.”

Minimum Wage: Raise it.  Virginia voters strongly support raising the minimum wage gradually from its current $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour by 2020 (Q7). Support stands at 74% overall, with women, African Americans, and Democrats the strongest supporters. A majority of Republicans and men support the proposal, but not as strongly. Voters who live in Democratic-controlled House and Senate districts support raising the minimum wage by an average of 12% more than voters who live in a Republican-controlled House or Senate district.

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