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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

February 12, 2020

2020 State of the Commonwealth Crosstabs

Partisan voter blocs persist on hot political choices, but on some issues, coalitions span party, age, race, gender; on guns, diverse coalition backs regulation but not ban

Summary of Key Findings

  1. Strong partisan divisions are evident in voters’ approval/disapproval of Governor Northam and President Trump and in voters’ assessments of the direction of the Commonwealth and nation.
  2. Gun laws test the limits of coalition. Background checks, ‘red flag’ law, and concealed carry limits are backed by a strong majority that crosses party, age, race and gender lines. The coalition fractures over an assault weapons ban.
  3. Action in the 2020 General Assembly suggests that proposals with a strong voter majority and broad coalition (ERA, background checks, ‘red flag’ law, minimum wage hike, no-excuse early voting, marijuana decriminalization, redistricting reform) will pass; but proposals with a slim voter majority but weak coalition (assault weapons ban) will falter.
  4. Partisan and ideological preference is a strong legislative force, public opinion notwithstanding. Proposals with no voter majority and no broad voter coalition but very strong support among majority party voters (local control over Confederate monuments) will likely pass.

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 toplines of our annual State of the Commonwealth survey, released in December, showed strong voter support for proposals that were likely to be at the top of the new Democratic majority’s agenda for the 2020 General Assembly. The demographic and partisan cross-tabs from that survey, released here, provide insight into where those proposals stand near the midpoint of the 2020 session, especially where voter support clearly bridges simple partisan divisions.

The overall survey showed pent-up demand for these changes in the law, where broad voter majorities across partisan and demographic lines had been stymied by ideological opposition when Republicans held the majority in the Assembly. The cross-tabs show why that demand is being met swiftly on some issues but not others under the new Democratic majority.

Gun control provides the clearest examples. Both the House of Delegates and the Senate have passed bills to require universal background checks and to establish a “red flag” law, which allows family or police to seek a court order to temporarily take a gun from a person judged to be a threat to himself or others. In the survey, 86% of voters favored universal background checks (Q12A), with extremely strong support across partisan and demographic lines: Democrats (96%), Republicans (76%), women (92%), men (78%), African-Americans (93%), white voters (84%). On the “red flag” law (Q12D), 73% of voters were in favor, also with a very broad coalition: Democrats (95%), Republicans (57%), women (83%), men (63%), African-Americans (90%), white voters (70%).

However, the proposal to ban assault-style weapons will test the limit of voter coalitions. Although 54% of voters overall favored the ban (Q12B), the survey showed deep partisan and demographic divisions: strongly in favor were Democrats (85%), African-Americans (78%), and women (69%); opposed were Republicans (67%) and men (58%); white voters were evenly split (49% for, 48% against). The bill passed a House committee on a party-line vote and a full House vote is imminent. Passage would put it before the Senate, where a more severe version was withdrawn and the outlook is uncertain.

The effect is also manifest in how quickly the 2020 General Assembly passed the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Voters in this survey overwhelmingly favored passage (Q8), with 80% overall in favor, including very strong support across partisan and demographic lines. Democrats showed the strongest support (97%) but even two out of three voters who identified as Republicans supported passage (65%). The ERA, which had been stymied in the General Assembly for decades, passed both the House of Delegates and the Senate one week into the 2020 session.

Voter support for decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana (Q19) was very strong overall (83%) and bridged partisan and demographic categories: Democrats (95%), Republicans (70%), women (82%), men (84%), African-Americans (91%), white voters (83%). On the eve of crossover, decriminalization bills are nearing passage in both House and Senate.

Strong voter support is not enough to speed the process when policy details can be devilish. Voters strongly support increasing the minimum wage (Q18), with 72% in favor overall and very strong majorities across all demographic lines. With 96% of Democrats in favor, Republicans were evenly split, 49%-49%. But making law means deciding how high the minimum should be, how soon, and what jobs or what size businesses should be exempt. A wage hike is expected to pass, but first the debate will continue. Likewise, voters across demographic and partisan lines strongly favor approval of a constitutional amendment to reform how political districts are drawn (Q10), with 70% in favor, including 81% of Democrats and 55% of Republicans. However, debate will continue about voting rights, diversity and anti-gerrymandering protections when the principle is put into practice. Very strong voter support hasn’t hastened the outcome.

The “composite” registered Virginia voter who represents the Democratic coalition is a black female age 44 or younger with a college education. While this voter can be found across the Commonwealth, she predominantly resides in the Golden Crescent from Northern Virginia down through Richmond and into Hampton Roads, but is very hard to find in the rural south and western parts of the state. The “composite” registered Virginia voter who represents the Republican coalition is a white male over the age of 44 with a high school education or less. While this voter can also be found across the Commonwealth, he is well represented in the rural south and western parts of the state.

These partisan coalitional groupings can best be seen in voters’ evaluations of the direction of the state and nation, and in the approval/disapproval ratings of the governor and president (Q1-Q4). Democratic coalition members are more likely to say the Commonwealth is moving in the right direction and approve of the job Governor Northam is doing and Republican coalition members are more likely to approve of the direction of the nation and more likely to approve of the job President Trump is doing.

The debate over Confederate monuments is a simple example of the power of partisan or ideological supremacy. The proposal to give local governments authority to remove or alter Confederate monuments (Q16) is opposed by a slim majority of voters overall (51%), and the partisan divide is extremely deep, with 76% of Democrats in favor and 90% of Republicans opposed. Support from African-Americans (79%) is strong, but otherwise the “composite” Democratic coalition is only modestly in favor: women (48%), voters 44 or younger (53%), voters with a college degree (48%). The “composite” Republican coalition is solidly opposed: men (56%), white voters (60%), voters over 44 (55%), voters with a high school degree or less (56%). However, the Democrats’ new majority in the Assembly means the bills are proceeding in tandem through House and Senate, though by party-line votes, and the high partisan and medium Democratic voter coalition support is likely enough to make this law, even lacking a voter majority.

The inverse is equally demonstrated by proposals that in previous years had voter majorities and broad coalition support but were stymied by the Republican-controlled legislature due to partisan or ideological opposition (universal background checks, ERA). Redistricting reform is a potential example of the inverse in this session, with the Democratic majority waffling at giving up its newfound power to enact a partisan gerrymander, despite an overwhelming voter majority and very broad coalition for reform (and their own anti-gerrymandering stance for years as the minority party).

How the survey was conducted:

The results of this poll are based on 901 interviews of registered Virginia voters, including 399 on landline and 502 on cell phone, conducted November 11-22, 2019. Percentages may not equal 100 due to rounding. The margin of error for the whole survey is +/- 3.4 % at the 95% level of confidence. All error margins have been adjusted to account for the survey’s design effect, which is 1.1 in this survey. The design effect is a factor representing the survey’s deviation from a simple random sample, and takes into account decreases in precision due to sample design and weighting procedures. Sub samples have a higher margin of error. In addition to sampling error, the other potential sources of error include non-response, question wording, and interviewer error. The response rate (AAPOR RRI Standard Definition) for the survey was 13%. Five callbacks were employed in the fielding process. Live calling was conducted by trained interviewers at the Wason Center for Public Policy Survey Research Lab at Christopher Newport University. The data reported here are weighted using an iterative weighting process on sex*age, race, education, mode or participation, and region of residence to reflect as closely as possible the demographic composition of registered Virginia voters. Questions 20-24 were commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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