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By Dr. Harry Wilson

Roanoke College Poll: Virginians prefer all Democrats to Trump but many Dems underwater on favorability

In possible November election matchups, each of the Democratic candidates leads President Donald Trump in Virginia according to latest The Roanoke College Poll. However, the better-known Democrats are not viewed much more favorably than Trump. The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research interviewed 520 potential Virginia1 voters between February 9 and February 18 and has a margin of error of +4.3 percent.

Democratic Candidates vs. Trump

Sanders         49%     Trump  40%

Biden             48%     Trump  40%

Warren           48%     Trump  41%

Buttigieg         47%     Trump  40%

Bloomberg      46%     Trump  40%

Klobuchar       46%     Trump  39%

*choices were rotated in the questions

Although each of the Democratic candidates named in the poll holds a lead over Trump of between 6 and 9 percentage points, the better-known candidates are even or  “underwater” in terms of favorable/unfavorable ratings. Only Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar have a higher percentage of favorable than unfavorable ratings, but for both the plurality of respondents were unable to give them a rating.


Favorability ratings




Donald Trump



Ralph Northam



Joe Biden



Bernie Sanders



Elizabeth Warren



Pete Buttigieg



Michael Bloomberg



Amy Klobuchar



*Democratic candidates were rotated in the questions

President Trump, Direction of the Country and Commonwealth, Governor Northam

A majority of Virginians (52%) disapprove of the way President Trump is handling his job, while just over one-third (36%) approve. The 36 percent figure matches the second highest approval rating for Trump in the Roanoke College Poll since he took office. Trump was viewed favorably by 32% of respondents while 54% viewed him unfavorably. Respondents were evenly split between agreeing with the Senate’s acquittal of President Trump in the impeachment trial (45%) and thinking he should have been removed from office (45%).

A majority (53%) of respondents think the country is on the wrong track, while 39 percent think it is headed in the right direction. This is significantly more positive than the most recent measurement in November 2019 when 65% said the country was on the wrong track. Three-fifths (60%) disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job, and that is the lowest disapproval in three years. The 20 percent who approve of Congress matches its high in February 2017.

Approval for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was up to 40 percent, but disapproval stands at 41 percent, which is higher than immediately after the governor’s “blackface” scandal broke. Northam was viewed favorably by 27% of respondents while 34% view him unfavorably. Four-in-10 (41%) respondents approve of the way the General Assembly is doing its job, while 38 percent disapprove. Just less than half (49%) of respondents think that Virginia is headed in the right direction while 44 percent think it is on the wrong track.

“Vexit,” the possible secession/annexation of several Virginia counties into neighboring West Virginia was supported by 20 percent of respondents but opposed by 62 percent.

Gun control

Gun control has been a dominating issue in this session of the General Assembly, and opinion regarding the issue has changed very little. A plurality said it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns (48%) than to control gun ownership (41%). A majority said that a gun in the possession of a law-abiding citizen is more likely to be used in self-defense (63%) than in an accidental shooting (24%). A plurality of those responding (34%) thought that stricter gun laws would make them safer, while 25 percent said stricter laws would make them less safe. Those responses show significant stability over several years, except the percentage that believes stricter laws would make them less safe more than doubled since we asked the question in 2013.

1Respondents were screened to include registered voters and those who said they were at least somewhat likely to register before the election and were somewhat likely to vote.

The Roanoke College Poll is funded by Roanoke College as a public service.


“While each of the Democratic candidates leads President Trump in head-to-head matchups, their unfavorable ratings suggest this is hardly a lovefest,” said Harry Wilson, director of the Roanoke College Poll. “Only Buttigieg and Klobuchar are above water, and they are not well known in Virginia. Meanwhile, Trump’s numbers appear to have been impervious to impeachment and the Commonwealth is evenly split in how it views the outcome of the impeachment trial.”

“In the Commonwealth, it appears that this session of the General Assembly has increased disapproval of Governor Northam…and approval to a much lesser extent. Still, opinion regarding gun control has remained stable.”


Interviewing for The Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia between Feb. 9 and Feb.18, 2020. Respondents were screened to include only those who are registered voters and those who are likely to register prior to the November election and are likely to vote in November. A total of 520 Virginia residents were interviewed. Telephone interviews were conducted in English and Spanish.

The landline sample consisted of random-digit numbers generated in proportion to the Virginia population so that all residential telephone numbers, including unlisted numbers, had a known chance of inclusion. Cellphone samples were purchased from Marketing Systems Group. Cellphones comprised 61 percent of the completed interviews.

Questions answered by the entire sample of 520 respondents are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4.3 percent at the 95 percent level of confidence. This means that in 95 out of 100 samples like the one used here, the results obtained should be no more than 4.3 percentage points above or below the figure that would be obtained by interviewing all Virginians who have a home telephone or a cell phone. Where the results of subgroups are reported, the sampling error is higher.

Quotas were used to ensure that different regions of the Commonwealth were proportionately represented. The data were statistically weighted for gender, race, and age. Weighting was done to match the 2016 Presidential election exit poll in Virginia. The margin of error was not adjusted for design effects due to weighting.

A copy of the questionnaire and topline may be found here.

For more about the Institute for Public Opinion Research, click here

CONTACT: Dr. Harry L. Wilson, Director, IPOR
(540) 375-2415 (Office)