Wason Center's State of the Commonwealth Survey Finds Virginia Voters are...Happy? - The Wason Center - Christopher Newport University

December 5, 2018

Wason Center's State of the Commonwealth Survey Finds Virginia Voters are...Happy?

"Voters back Amazon deal, sports betting, ERA, and independent redistricting commission."

Summary of Key Findings

  1. Virginia voters strongly approve of the deal that will bring part of Amazon's east coast headquarters to Virginia.
  2. Voters support legalizing sports betting and casinos and want any related tax revenue to support education and the general fund. But they worry legalization will promote gambling addiction.
  3. Across party lines and demographic groups, voters very strongly support ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment in the 2019 General Assembly.
  4. Voters very strongly support amending Virginia's constitution to transfer redistricting from the General Assembly to an independent commission.
  5. Voters are divided about what to do with an expected state windfall from federal tax reform, slightly favoring a general tax cut over a tax credit for low-income to moderate-income Virginians.


State of things: Virginians are very optimistic. Optimism about the direction of the Commonwealth (Q1) is as high as it has been since the Wason Center began polling in 2007, with 64% of registered voters saying things in Virginia are moving in the right direction. By contrast, 35% say things in the country are heading in the right direction (Q2), almost exactly where it was in January 2018. Voters give Governor Ralph Northam high marks after nearly 11 months in office (Q4), with 59% saying they approve of the job he is doing, including 32% of Republicans, while 24% overall say they disapprove. Voters feel roughly the opposite about the job Donald Trump is doing as president (Q3), with 57% saying they disapprove and 35% saying they approve. Attorney General Mark Herring (Q5) has a 42% to 17% approval vs. disapproval among Virginia voters and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax (Q6) has a 35% to 13% approval vs. disapproval.

Amazon deal: Voters strongly approve. By more than a two-to-one margin, voters say they approve of the recently-announced deal to bring part of Amazon's east coast headquarters to Virginia (Q7), with 68% saying they approve and 30% saying they disapprove. Support is high across all regions of the state but stands at 90% in South/Southwest, the most economically challenged region of the state. In Northern Virginia, where the Amazon development will be located, support stands at 72%. Approval is lowest in the Richmond region at 62% and stands at 82% in Hampton Roads.

Voters strongly back passage of the ERA. The Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution will come before the General Assembly in the upcoming session, and 81% of voters support its ratification while 12% oppose it. Support for ratification is extremely high across the board. Support tops 60-70% even where it lags slightly among men, voters in the Richmond region, voters 45 and older, and voters in House and Senate districts held by Republicans. Virginia would be the 38th state to approve the amendment, reaching the threshold for making it part of the U.S. Constitution. However, ERA opponents argue the deadline for ratification expired in 1982.

"The legal standing of ratification may be murky, but Virginia voters are very clear that they want the 2019 General Assembly to pass the ERA," said Dr. Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy.

Voters favor tax cut over tax credit with revenue windfall. Among the most contentious issues facing the General Assembly this session might be what to do with a state tax revenue windfall of as much as $600 million resulting from the recent changes to federal tax laws. Republicans in the General Assembly generally support an across-the-board tax cut to Virginians who pay income taxes, while Democrats in the General Assembly and Governor Northam generall support a tax credit to low-income and moderate-income Virginians regardless of how much they pay in state income taxes.

Asked to weigh the two options independent of one another, 75% of registered voters say they strongly or somewhat support an across-the-board tax cut (Q8a) while 62% say they strongly or somewhat support a tax credit (Q8b). Support for the tax cut runs about 20% higher in House and Senate districts held by Republicans than in House and Senate districts held by Democrats. However, there is almost no variation in support for the tax credit across House and Senate districts held by Republicans or Democrats. When the two policy options are pitted against each other (Q10), voters side with the tax cut slightly over the tax credit, 49% to 46%.

Redistricting reform: Voters favor independent commission. Familiarity with the current process of redistricting in Virginia has hit 58%, a five-year high (Q12). Advocates of reform have proposed a state constitutional amendment that would take the process of drawing legislative districts away from the General Assembly and give it to an independent commission. Voters support changing the way redistricting is done in Virginia by a very wide margin, 71% to 19%, and support the proposed constitutional amendment by an even wider margin, 78% to 17%. Support for the independent commission amendment is 75% or higher across House and Senate districts held by either Republicans or Democrats.

Voters support legalizing sports betting and casinos in Virginia. Following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that overturned a federal law that generally banned sports betting, legislation will be introduced in Virginia to legalize sports betting and casinos. A majority of Virginia voters (63%) agree that sports betting should be allowed (Q15a). A strong majority (77%) say that sports betting will provide tax revenue to the state (Q15c). Voters are split on whether legalizing sports betting will keep criminals out of the business, with 51% agreeing that it will and 43% disagreeing (Q15b).

Interest in allowing legal casino gambling has grown since the Pamunkey Indians announced plans to build a casino in Virginia. A majority of Virginia voters (64%) say the tribe should be allowed to open a casino in Virginia, and 58% say that if a tribal casino is allowed, other casinos should be allowed (Q18b). Support for allowing other casinos to open is strongest among men (64%), African Americans (74%), and voters in Northern Virginia (66%) and Hampton Roads (70%). Support is lowest among women (52%) and voters in South/Southwest (39%). Voters agree (57%-38%) that casinos in economically distressed areas could help by creating jobs and generating tax revenue for those areas (Q18c).

If sports betting and casinos are allowed, voters say, tax revenue collected should fund education or the general fund before transportation, health care, or other things (Q21).

"Virginia voters are ready for legalized sports betting and casinos, just like they were ready for the lottery 30 years ago," said Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center. "And just as education funding was a justification to open the door to gambling then, directing gambling taxes to education seems to appeal to voters today."

Asked to say which would be their top arguments for and against allowing sports betting and casinos in Virginia, voters are generally mixed in their arguments in favor (Q22), with 32% saying sports betting and casinos will produce more tax revenue, 25% saying people already do it so it should be regulated and taxed, and 29% saying regulating it will make it safer. When it comes to arguments against sports betting and casinos (Q23), nearly half (43%) say they will promote gambling addiction, 28% say they will promote the wrong values, and 17% say they will promote crime.



The results of this poll are based on 841 interviews of registered Virginia voters, including 294 on landline and 547 on cell phone, conducted November 14-30, 2018. Percentages may not equal 100 due to rounding. The margin of error for the whole survey is +/- 3.7 % at the 95% level of confidence. This means that if 50% of respondents indicate a topline view on an issue, we can be 95% confident that the population’s view on that issue is somewhere between 46.3% and 53.7%. All error margins have been adjusted to account for the survey’s design effect, which is 1.2 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. Subsamples have a higher margin of error. In addition to sampling error, the other potential sources of error include nonresponse, question wording, and interviewer error. The response rate (AAPOR RRI Standard Definition) for the survey was 17%. 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 and region of residence to reflect as closely as possible the demographic composition of Virginia registered voters.

For further information contact:

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

Dr. Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo, Research Lab Director
Office: (757) 594-9140

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