New poll confirms voters' disapproval of Virginia leaders

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RICHMOND, Va. (WCAV) — A new poll of likely voters in Virginia has found that more Virginians disapprove of Governor Ralph Northam, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring, but people do not think they should resign in the wake of blackface scandals and sexual assault allegations.

The poll was conducted by the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University and involved more than 1,000 registered voters in the Commonwealth between March 11 and 31.

It found that Northam's disapproval rating had more than doubled, from 24 percent to 49 percent, since December, following the revelation of a picture of people wearing blackface and a Ku Klux Klan robe in his medical school yearbook.

However, 52 percent of respondents said they think he should stay in office, though within the Democratic Party, 29 percent said he should resign.

Out of those numbers, due to the subject of the scandal involving Northam, the response of African-Americans who were polled stands out. Of them, 63 percent say he should remain in office and just 31 percent say he should resign.

On the other hand, almost a quarter of respondents said they did not know about the scandal or had not read any recent news stories concerning Northam.

Northam actually has a higher disapproval rating than President Donald Trump at this time. Trump's disapproval dropped from 59 percent in December to 40 percent in March and he got one of his highest approval ratings at 44 percent.

Fairfax has been accused of sexually assaulting two women, and his disapproval rating tripled from 13 percent in December to 39 percent now, but 45 percent of those who knew about the allegations said he should remain in office while 42 percent said he should resign.

Regarding Herring and his admitting to having worn blackface for a costume in 1980, his disapproval rating increased by 11 percent to 28 percent, but 64 percent of those who knew about his admission said he should remain in office.

"Probably because of the nature of the sexual assault allegations against him, Justin Fairfax appears more damaged than Mark Herring," said Dr. Quentin Kidd, the director of the Wason Center.

This could have an impact in November when control of both chambers of the General Assembly is on the line, though Democrats do still have a slight edge on a generic ballot test, which 43 percent of respondents saying they would vote for Democrats if the election were held now compared to 39 percent who said they would vote for Republicans.

However, Democrats historically have less interest in elections that do not include statewide or presidential candidates, which could give Republicans an advantage in the ballot box in November.

"While modest, any advantage here is significant because turnout in the pure state legislative cycle is always very low," said Dr. Rachel Bitecofer, the assistant director of the Wason Center. "If Democrats increase their participation rate significantly over the 2015 cycle, it could have a tremendous impact, as we saw in both 2017 and 2018."

When asked which party they would like to see in control of the General Assembly after the November election, 46 percent of respondents said the Democratic Party while 42 percent said Republicans.

The poll also found that abortion will likely play a role in the upcoming election due to how heavily it is emphasized by both parties.

However, the classic bell curve in the data regarding the abortion question found that the Democratic push for fewer restrictions and the Republican push for more restrictions on abortion are both out of step with the median voter's preference.

Other issues addressed by this poll involved asking which party respondents felt cares the most about certain demographics, such as women, children, the working class or the middle class, and the poor.

Of all of those demographics, respondents said Democrats care more about all of them except one. Respondents said Republicans care more about men.

Finally, when asked about the direction of Virginia and the United States, 46 percent of respondents said Virginia is heading more in the right direction while 40 percent said it is going in the wrong direction and 58 percent said the country is heading in the wrong direction, compared to 31 percent who said it's going in the right direction.

To see the full poll results, click here.