2021 State of the Commonwealth - 2 of 2 - The Wason Center - Christopher Newport University

February 2, 2021

State of the Commonwealth - 2 of 2

"Virginia voters favor pot legalization, paid sick leave; most would repeal death penalty, minimum sentencing; health care, schools favored most for budget increases"

Summary of Key Findings

  1. Virginia registered voters largely support criminal justice proposals to legalize marijuana (68%), repeal the death penalty (56%), and eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for some offenses (55%).
  2. On workplace issues, Virginians show very strong support for requiring employers to provide paid sick leave (88%) and strong support for allowing public employees to unionize and bargain collectively (68%).
  3. On the state budget, a majority of Virginia voters support increasing state spending on health care (69%), K-12 education (66%), economic development (60%), social services such as food and housing aid (60%), and public safety (60%), while 50% support higher spending on environmental protection.
  4. Fewer voters overall favor state budget decreases. Even in areas where decreases find the most voter support, support for increases is about equal or higher, including tourism (27% decrease vs. 26% increase), prisons and jails (24% vs. 28%), and cultural institutions such as museums (22% vs. 31%).
  5. Voters strongly support the creation of state tax rebates for the purchase of electric vehicles (70%).


Criminal Justice Proposals: The Virginia General Assembly session now convened in Richmond is considering a variety of criminal justice proposals, including legalizing recreational marijuana use, removing mandatory minimum sentences, and repealing the death penalty. Our survey shows strong support for marijuana legalization (68% support/strongly support to 32% oppose/strongly oppose), a measure championed by Governor Ralph Northam. Majorities of Virginians across demographic and partisan lines back legalization, though to different degrees. Younger Virginians’ support is strong, with 79% of those ages 18-44 either supporting or strongly supporting the proposal, compared to 57% for those 45 and older. In addition, 78% of Black voters surveyed favor legalization, compared to 65% of white voters. Democrats show greater support for legalization than Republicans (80%- 51%).

A majority of Virginia registered voters’ support repealing the death penalty (56% to 44%) and eliminating mandatory minimum sentences (55% to 45%), though significant partisan differences remain. Most Republicans oppose/strongly oppose repealing the death penalty (64%), while a large majority of Democrats support/strongly support the proposal (74%). Black registered voters are more likely to support the repeal (72%) than white voters (52%). This division aligns with arguments that the death penalty is disproportionately used against Black defendants. Joining the 25 states that do not now impose the death penalty would be a significant change for Virginia, which is second only to Texas in executions carried out since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Workplace Issues: The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened attention on workplace issues nationally and in the Commonwealth, with two particular issues gaining special attention: collective bargaining and paid sick leave. Our survey shows an overwhelming majority of Virginians support requiring employers with at least 25 employees to provide a minimum of 5 paid sick days per year (88% support/strongly support to 12% oppose/strongly oppose). Virginians also support allowing state and local government employees the right to join a union and negotiate a contract, known as collective bargaining (68% support/strongly support to 32% oppose/strongly oppose). The state law prohibiting public employee collective bargaining was revised last year to give local governments the option to allow it, beginning in May of this year. “Workers’ rights gained momentum as control of the General Assembly shifted to Democrats, but the pandemic has also highlighted the inability of workers to bargain for safer working conditions and take paid sick days,” said Dr. Quentin Kidd, academic director of the Wason Center.

The Budget: Budgetary struggles are on the minds of both elected officials and voters as the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced expected state revenues, while highlighting needs within public schools and other spending categories. We asked voters whether the state should increase, decrease or keep spending the same across a variety of budget areas. Voters support increasing spending for health care (69%), K-12 education (66%), economic development (60%), social services, such as food and housing aid (60%), and public safety (60%), while 50% support increases for environmental protection and workers compensation. Very few Virginians overall indicate a desire to decrease spending, and, in every budget category, more voters support keeping spending the same than making cuts. Even in areas where support for budget cuts is highest, support for increases is about equal or higher, such as tourism (27% decrease, 26% increase), prisons and jails (24% decrease, 28% increase), and cultural institutions, such as museums or state libraries (22% decrease, 31% increase).

Electric Vehicles: A very strong majority of Virginians support providing tax rebates for the purchase of an electric vehicle in the Commonwealth (70% to 29%). “The General Assembly has shown great interest in renewable energy and climate mitigation policies in the past year, so it’s not surprising to see continued environmental protection efforts,” said Dr. Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo, research director of the Wason Center. “Support for electric vehicles is likely a response to the increased salience of climate issues, given the environmental risks Virginia faces associated with sea level rise and warmer temperatures.”

How the survey was conducted:

The results of this study are based on interviews of 1,039 Virginia residents, including 897 registered voters, conducted online January 18-25, 2021. Age-qualified and residence-qualified respondents for this non-probability survey were selected from Lucid’s Virginia panel, and stratified by locality. The sample was post-weighted using an iterative weighting process on region, sex, race, age, and education to reflect the geographical and known demographic characteristics of the Virginia population based on the 2020 population estimates. Because this is a panel survey and not a random sample survey, the reporting of a margin of sampling error would not be appropriate. A sample selected at random has known mathematical properties that allow for the computation of sampling error, and an opt-in panel survey does not allow for such a calculation based upon those known mathematical properties. The precision of online polling is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a Bayesian credibility interval of +/- 4.8%. This credibility interval was adjusted using the standard weighting design effect, which was 1.3 for this survey.

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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