2020 Virginia Presidential Primary Poll - The Wason Center - Christopher Newport University

February 28, 2020

2020 Virginia Presidential Primary Poll

"Poll: Biden leads Virginia’s Super Tuesday field at 22%; in striking range are Sanders at 17%, Bloomberg at 13%"

Summary of Key Findings

  1. In the survey of 561 likely voters in the Democratic primary, Biden (22%), Sanders (17%) and Bloomberg (13%) all demonstrate potential to win on Tuesday. Buttigieg and Warren poll at 8%, Klobuchar at 5%, Steyer at 1%.
  2. Asked if they will support the party’s eventual nominee, 82% of Democratic primary voters say yes, and 67% say “definitely.” Of the 18% who are uncertain or who say they definitely won’t, two-thirds fear the nominee will be “too liberal” and about one-fifth fear the nominee will be “too moderate.”
  3. Virginia Democratic primary voters are evenly split on whether electability (49%) or agreement on issues (48%) is more important to their vote.
  4. The survey of 866 registered voters finds President Trump facing an uphill battle to carry Virginia, a state he lost by 5.4 points to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Just 38% chose Trump over the option of “Someone Else,” which received 59%.
  5. On issues, 56% of registered voters support a “wealth tax” of the kind proposed by Elizabeth Warren, including 56% of Independents and 27% of Republicans.
  6. A majority (60%) support maintaining the current system of private health care insurance, rather than a “Medicare for All” type option.


With Virginia’s Democratic presidential primary days away, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Mike Bloomberg are positioned to do well, with Biden leading the field with 22% of the vote. Sanders has 17%, and Bloomberg has 13%. Although Biden is safely ahead of Bloomberg, he is within the margin of error with Sanders, and Sanders and Bloomberg are within the margin of error from each other. However, it should be noted that the survey came out of the field before the South Carolina debate and was fielded over much of the month of February, a volatile campaign period. Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren polled at 8%, Amy Klobuchar at 5% and Tom Steyer at 1% – lower than Andrew Yang at 5%, who ended his campaign while the poll was in the field. Another 13% of Virginia primary voters said they were undecided at the time of the survey.

Virginia primary voters are evenly split on whether electability (49%) or agreement on issues (48%) is more important to them, a potentially positive sign for Sanders, whose opponents have attacked him as unelectable. The Democratic contest has been fractious, and unity is seen as key to unseating President Trump. Asked if they would still support the party’s nominee in the fall if their preferred candidate did not win the nomination, 82% said they would and 67% said definitely. Of the voters who said they may not or would not support the party’s nominee if their preferred candidate did not win, two thirds (67%) said they are concerned the nominee might be “too liberal.” That is another potential disunity warning for Democrats as the party’s mainstream seeks to nominate a moderate while its progressive wing is largely coalescing around Sanders, with Warren standing by.

The lack of a Republican primary and Virginia’s open primary system may be encouraging more self-identified Republicans to participate in the Virginia Democratic primary than in 2016, when exit polls put that number at 3%. Among the relatively small number of Republicans in the survey’s primary sample, 29% say they definitely will participate in the Democratic primary. That could indicate a Republican crossover vote of as high as 5%, though the low sub-sample size softens that conclusion. Vote preferences among these voters do not display a heavy bias towards one candidate. However, due to the low sub-sample size, we are not reporting these specific breakdowns.

Our overall survey polled 866 registered voters, including our Democratic primary sub-sample of 561 likely voters. The overall group was asked questions about the 2020 election and about several policy issues being discussed in the 2020 cycle. When asked whether they wanted to reelect Donald Trump or elect someone else, voters overwhelmingly chose someone else (59%), with Trump preferred by just 38%. Among those voters, 61% of Independents said they want someone else over Trump. Further, “someone else” was the preference of a majority of women (66%), men (51%), white voters (51%), African Americans (91%), voters 18–44 (68%) and voters 45 and older (56%). Notably, only 2% are undecided, which suggests an entrenched electorate. Asked about impeachment, a majority of voters (54%) said that Trump’s conduct regarding Ukraine was improper, and only two out of three Republicans (67%) called his behavior “proper.”

Several public policy issues being discussed in the 2020 cycle were tested for support, including in novel ways. On healthcare, voters were asked whether America’s current private insurance system should be maintained, phased out over time, or ended promptly. A majority of 60% said “maintain,” while just 9% said “ended promptly,” with 28% saying “phased out over time.” This suggests that a position in the general election of immediately replacing the current system with something like Medicare for All may be a significant liability for the Democratic nominee. The hesitation is across ages and partisan affiliations. While voters under 45 are less likely to say they want the current system maintained (46%) than their older counterparts (64%), younger voters are just as skittish about ending the current system promptly, largely migrating to the “phased out over time” option (44%). A plurality of Democrats (44%) and a majority of Independents (56%) choose the “maintain” option.

Voters were also asked about proposals to eliminate all student loan debt, which have been proposed by some of the Democratic candidates. Only 15% support cancelling loans for all borrowers, and only 14% support cancelling loans only for low-income borrowers, while 38% support reducing but not outright cancelling loans, and 32% support leaving student loan debt as is. Clear party lines emerge on this issue, with Republicans overwhelmingly in favor of leaving debt as it is and Democrats dispersed between the three options that provide relief to borrowers.

However, support for other liberal/progressive initiatives was more robust, with 56% of voters supporting imposing a “wealth tax” of the kind proposed by Warren. While 83% support among Democrats highlights the partisan divide on this issue, even 27% of Republicans support the “wealth tax” proposal, as do 56% of Independents. When asked whether they support passing a federal law to provide for 12 weeks of paid family leave, 70% of Virginia voters indicate they support that measure, including 87% of Democrats, 49% of Republicans and 69% of Independents.

Virginia General Assembly Issues

Support for the push by Governor Ralph Northam and the Democratic majority in the General Assembly to tighten gun control laws in Virginia remains strong among Virginia voters, with 66% support for a universal background check and 62% support for the so-called “red flag” law.

Finally, 56% of Virginia voters say they favor legalizing marijuana for recreational use in the Commonwealth, which includes 37% of Republicans, 58% of Independents and 72% of Democrats.

Field Dates: February 3-23, 2020
Full Poll 866 Registered Virginia Voters (MOE = +/- 3.5%)
2020 Democratic Primary 561 Likely Voters (MOE = +/- 4.3%)

How the survey was conducted:

The results of this poll are based on 866 interviews of registered voters, including 410 on landline and 456 on cell phone, conducted February 3–24, 2020. Percentages may not equal 100 due to rounding. The margin of error for the whole survey is +/–3.5% 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 46.5% and 53.5%. 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. 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 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 age, race, sex, and education to reflect as closely as possible the population of Virginia’s electorate. The Democratic primary questions were asked only of a subset of 561 voters who indicated they were somewhat or very likely to vote in the primary. The margin of error for the primary subsample is +/–4.3% at the 95% level of confidence. The cellphone/landline split for the primary subsample is 300 on landline and 266 on cell phones.

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

quick edit report a problem