Virginia General Election - Part 2 - The Wason Center - Christopher Newport University

September 29, 2020

Virginia General Election - Part 2

"Va. voters say Biden better than Trump on Covid-19; say nation relaxing restrictions too fast, state OK; strongly back major reforms on police use of force"

Summary of Key Findings

  1. A majority of Virginia voters say the country is moving too quickly to loosen restrictions related to Covid-19 (54%), and a plurality say the state is about right (47%). More say Joe Biden (48%) would be better at responding to the pandemic than President Donald Trump (36%).
  2. On K-12 school opening, Virginia voters prefer a hybrid model (46%) to an all-virtual model (28%) or fully in-person model (23%).
  3. Strong majorities support reforms related to police use of force, including training on de-escalation (96%), requiring body cameras (95%), requiring officers to intervene when a colleague uses unlawful force (94%), requiring public reports when force is used (76%), establishing a public database on police misconduct (76%) and creating civilian oversight boards (70%).
  4. By slimmer majorities, voters support criminalizing the use of chokeholds (56%-42%), requiring officers to live in the localities they police (52%-47%), and allowing civilians to sue for misconduct (52%-44%). Voters narrowly oppose banning police use of military-grade weapons (50%-47%).
  5. Voters view police positively on protecting people from crime (64%) but negatively on treatment of racial and ethnic groups (65%), the proper use of force (54%), and holding officers accountable for misconduct (61%).


Covid-19 Pandemic: Virginia voters appear wary of how the country is responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, with a majority saying the country is moving too quickly to loosen restrictions (54% to 41%). A clear partisan divide exists with 86% of Democrats saying the country is moving too quickly, while 74% of Republicans believe the country is taking too long. Assessing efforts in Virginia, a plurality (47%) of those surveyed indicate that the restrictions are about right, while 29% indicate there should be fewer restrictions and 24% say more are needed.

Voters say Joe Biden would be better at responding to Covid-19 than Donald Trump (48% Biden, 36% Trump), while 11% say neither would be good.

A few weeks into the new school year, nearly half of voters (46%) support a hybrid model, in which students have limited in-person instruction, with just over a quarter (28%) supporting entirely virtual education and just under a quarter (23%) supporting entirely in-person instruction. Currently, most public-school divisions in the state are fully virtual, though several are signaling that they may move to hybrid models soon.

Police Reform: Police reform has received heightened attention since the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police. The Virginia General Assembly has debated several reforms during its on-going special session. By varying degrees, voters support almost all of them.

Voters show the strongest levels of support for de-escalation training (96% strongly support/support), requiring body cameras be used by police (95%), requiring officers to intervene when a colleague uses unlawful force (94%), requiring public reports any time force is used (76%), creating a public database on police misconduct (76%), establishing civilian oversight boards to review police misconduct (70%), and having police focus on serious crimes rather than misdemeanors (66%).

Smaller majorities of Virginia voters support criminalizing the use of chokeholds (56% to 42%), requiring police officers to live in the localities they police (52% to 47%) and allowing civilians to sue police officers for excessive force or misconduct (52% to 44%). Voters do not support banning the use of military- grade weapons by police (50% oppose/strongly oppose a ban, 47% strongly support/support a ban).

“Virginia voters are pretty plainly saying it’s time for some of these police reforms to be made into law,” said Wason Center Research Director Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo. “And enough lawmakers seem to be listening that many reforms, though not all, are poised to pass in the General Assembly’s current special session.”

Assessment of Police: Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Virginia voters rate police across the country as “excellent” or “good” when it comes protecting people from crime. However, voters rate police nationwide as “only fair” or “poor” regarding holding other officers accountable for police misconduct (61%), the use of force in the right amount (54%), and for the equal treatment of racial and ethnic groups (65%). “Majorities across all demographic groups – white, Black, men, women, young, old, college or not -- give police poor marks on race,” Wason Center Academic Director Quentin Kidd said. “But there’s a partisan divide. Solid majorities of Democrats and Independents rate police poorly on race, but nearly two out of three Republicans say police treat racial and ethnic groups equally.”

How the survey was conducted:

The results of this poll are based on 796 interviews of registered Virginia voters who have voted in at least two general elections in the last four years, including 163 on landline and 633 on cell phone, conducted September 9-21, 2020. Percentages may not equal 100 due to rounding. The margin of error for the whole survey is +/-3.6% 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 46.4% and 53.6%. 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 10%. 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 region, age, race, sex, and education to reflect as closely as possible the population of Virginia’s 2020 electorate.

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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