State of the Commonwealth 2020 Survey Report - The Wason Center - Christopher Newport University

December 16, 2019

State of the Commonwealth 2020 Survey Report

"Voters support gun control, ERA, redistricting reform, minimum wage hike and marijuana decriminalization, but oppose local control over Confederate monuments"

Summary of Key Findings

  1. Voters strongly support requiring background checks on all gun sales (86%-13%) and passing a ‘red flag’ law (73%-23%); a slight majority (54%-44%) support banning assault-style weapons
  2. Voters strongly back the Equal Rights Amendment (80%-13%)
  3. A slight majority oppose giving localities authority to remove or alter Confederate monuments (51%-44%)
  4. Voters strongly support decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana (83%-14%)
  5. Voters strongly support raising the minimum wage (72%-28%)
  6. Voters strongly support automatic voter registration (64%-31%), but slightly oppose no-excuse absentee voting (74%-23%)
  7. Voters strongly support second passage of the redistricting reform constitutional amendment (70%-15%)


State of things. Voters’ assessment of the direction of the Commonwealth (Q1) remains slightly more positive than negative, with 48% of registered voters saying things in Virginia are moving in the right direction and 41% saying they are moving in the wrong direction. That assessment is about the same as in Wason Center surveys in April and October 2019, but significantly worse than a year ago, when 64% of voters thought Virginia was going in the right direction and 25% thought the direction was wrong. By contrast, only 29% say things in the country are heading in the right direction (Q2), while 55% say they are heading in the wrong direction. That assessment has generally worsened since January 2017, but the marked contrast between voters’ more favorable judgment about the state and their more negative judgment about the nation is common across years of Wason Center surveys, under governors and presidents of both parties.

Approval-Disapproval ratings. Voters give Governor Ralph Northam a 52%-36% approval-disapproval rating (Q4), which continues his recovery from the low of 40% in the April 2019 Wason Center poll, which was conducted soon after the ‘blackface’ scandal broke. Voters feel roughly the opposite about the job President Donald Trump is doing (Q3), with 42% saying they approve and 55% saying they disapprove. Trump’s ratings are roughly the same as in the April 2019 Wason Center survey but improved from the October 2019 Wason Center survey, which was taken at the height of Virginia’s statewide legislative campaign (37% approve, 61% disapprove). Attorney General Mark Herring (Q5) has a 36%-27% approval-disapproval rating among Virginia voters, down significantly from 42%-17% a year ago but not significantly changed from the April 2019 survey taken soon after he admitted wearing a blackface costume in college in 1980. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax’s approval-disapproval rating (Q6) has equalized at 32%-32%, a much higher negative than 35%-13% a year ago, but not significantly changed from the April 2019 survey conducted soon after he was accused of sexual assaults in 2000 and 2004 – accusations he forcefully denies. By a 10-point margin, 51%-41%, voters approve of the results of the November elections that gave Democrats control of both houses of the General Assembly (Q7).

Equal Rights Amendment. Voters continue to back passage of the ERA. In the Wason Center’s December 2018 poll of Virginia voters, 81% said they supported the General Assembly passing the Equal Rights Amendment. That strong support remains, with 80% (Q8) saying they support passage and 13% saying they oppose it. 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.

Voting and elections. Voters strongly support two voting rights reforms being considered this session: no-excuse absentee voting and automatic registration. Virginia voters support a proposal that would allow voters to cast an absentee ballot without citing a reason during a 21-day period before Election Day (Q17), with 74% saying they support such a measure and 23% saying they oppose it. Voters also say they strongly support automatic voter registration for all eligible citizens, (Q11) by a wide margin, 64%-31%.

Gun control. One of the central issues in the November elections was gun control, and Virginia voters are firmly in support of further restrictions. The most widely supported restriction is making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks (Q12A), with 86% of voters saying they support or strongly support that measure. Three-fourths (76%) of voters oppose or strongly oppose allowing a person who legally owns a gun to conceal carry that weapon without a permit (Q12C), while 73% say they support a “red flag” law allowing a family member or the police to seek a court order to temporarily take guns (Q12D) from legal gun owners judged to be a threat to harm themselves or others. While a majority of 54% of voters support a ban on assault-style weapons, this measure has the highest opposition, with 42% saying they oppose or strongly oppose such a ban (Q12B).

Redistricting reform. Voters support amending Virginia’s constitution to establish a redistricting commission. By a wide margin, 70%-15%, voters say they support or strongly support the General Assembly passing for the second time a proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution that would create a commission to redraw the state’s legislative boundaries after each federal Census (Q10). That power now lies with the legislature and the governor. If the General Assembly passes the amendment a second time, the amendment will be subject to a voter referendum in November 2020. If approved by the voters, the reformed process would take effect for the required 2021 redistricting. Voter awareness of the redistricting process has improved since 2015, when the Wason Center began tracking it. Currently, voter awareness stands at 54%, down 4 points since a year ago but still up significantly from 47% in 2015 (Q9).

Confederate monuments. By a slight majority, voters oppose giving local governments power to remove or alter Confederate monuments. State law now prohibits local governments from removing or altering the monuments, and Virginia voters are split on the issue. A slim 51% majority say they oppose or strongly oppose giving local governments authority over the monuments and 44% say they support giving local governments that option (Q16).

Marijuana. By a wide margin, Virginia voters say they support decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, making the offense subject to fines and fees rather than jail time (Q19). While 83% support or strongly support decriminalization, 14% oppose or strongly oppose the change. Possession is now a criminal offense.

Minimum wage. Nearly three-fourths (72%) of Virginia voters say they support gradually raising the minimum wage in the state from its current $7.25 per hour up to $10.10 per hour, while 25% say they oppose raising the minimum wage (Q18).

Payday and title lending. Virginia voters have largely negative views (Q20A and Q20B) of payday lenders (64% very or somewhat negative versus 2% somewhat positive) and car title lenders (55% very or somewhat negative versus 4% very or somewhat positive), and 75% say they should be more regulated (Q22), while 7% say they should not. By 84% to 6%, Virginia voters say annual interest rates on payday loans and car title loans should be capped at a lower rate than their current rates (Q23). By 72% to 17%, Virginia voters say they support or strongly support a proposal to cap the interest rates on payday and title loans at 36 percent, plus a monthly service fee (Q24).

In February 2020, the Wason Center will release the detailed cross-tab results of this survey, analyzing the results by political party, region, age, race, sex and other factors.

Field Dates: November 11-22, 2019
901 Registered Virginia Voters
Overall Toplines Margin of Error = +/- 3.4%

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.

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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