Roanoke College Poll looks at top issues in Virginia
Virginians more optimistic; Youngkin approval up; economy, jobs, and inflation remain top issues for the commonwealth
The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research (IPOR) at Roanoke College interviewed 680 adult residents of Virginia between Feb. 12 and Feb. 21 in a survey addressing topics such as approval and favorability ratings for Gov. Glenn Youngkin and other political figures, the 2024 Republican presidential nomination field and potential general election matchups, the most important issues facing the commonwealth, and attitudes related to public schools and issues in education. The survey has a margin of error of 4.23%.
Approval/favorability of political figures and direction of Virginia and country
Youngkin’s approval rating is up five points from November with 57% of Virginians reporting that they approve of the way he is handling his job as governor (from 52% in November). His disapproval is also down six points from November (41% in November, 35% now). While Youngkin’s favorability rating is statistically unchanged, his unfavorable rating dropped five points to 35% (from 40% in November). These numbers mark Youngkin’s highest approval rating and lowest unfavorable rating recorded by the Roanoke College Poll during his time in office. Additionally, significant partisan gaps are evident in Youngkin’s approval and favorability ratings, including a 54-point gap in approval (35% of Democrats, 87% of Republicans) and 56-point gap in favorability (29% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans). Virginians’ approval of the General Assembly is up four points from a year ago with 48% approving of the way the General Assembly is handling its job (from 44% last February). There is also an 11-point partisan gap in approval of the General Assembly (57% Democrats, 46% Republicans).
At the national level, President Joe Biden’s approval rating is down slightly to 38% (from 41% in November), though that is within the survey’s statistical margin of error. Similarly, Biden’s favorability rating is down four points to 40% and his unfavorable rating is up four points to 55% from 44% and 51% in November, respectively. Former President Donald Trump’s favorability and unfavorable ratings are statistically unchanged from Roanoke College’s November 2022 poll. There are substantial partisan gaps in favorability ratings for both Biden and Trump, including a 75-point gap for Biden (79% of Democrats, 4% of Republicans) and 60-point gap for Trump (10% of Democrats, 70% of Republicans). As for the U.S. Congress, Virginians’ approval rating is down four points to 23% (from 27% in November).
When respondents were asked about whether things in the commonwealth are going in the right direction or have gotten off on the wrong track, there has been an 8-point increase to 55% who think things are going in the right direction and 9-point decrease to 39% who think things have gotten off on the wrong track (from 47% and 48% in November, respectively). There is a modest partisan gap with 48% of Democrats and 63% of Republicans thinking things in Virginia are going in the right direction. At the national level, 27% think things are going in the right direction in the country and 69% think things have gotten off on the wrong track, which is statistically unchanged from the last poll (28% and 68% in November, respectively). There is a 44-point gap in attitudes about whether things are going in the right direction in the country (50% of Democrats and 6% of Republicans).
2024 GOP presidential nomination and hypothetical general election matchups
The Roanoke College Poll asked Virginians’ opinions about the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race, including opinions about where Youngkin might fit within the potential field of candidates. While Youngkin has not yet announced a run for president, we found that 34% of Virginians think he should run for president and 54% think he should not. Among Republicans, 42% think he should seek the Republican nomination for president, which is down 10 points from November.
The poll also asked Virginians who they would most prefer to be the Republican nominee for president. The poll provided a potential field of candidates including those who have officially announced, such as Trump and Nikki Haley, and candidates who have been speculated to run, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence. Among Republican respondents, the candidates they would most prefer to be the Republican nominee for president are Trump (39%) or DeSantis (28%), with all other candidates in the single digits. We also asked respondents who their second choice would be for the Republican nomination. Among Republican respondents, the popular second choices are Youngkin (25%), DeSantis (21%) or Trump (18%), with all other candidates again in the single digits.
Following those results, the poll asked Virginians who they would vote for if the presidential election were held today in three potential matchups. In a matchup between Biden and Trump, Biden has a slight edge over Trump 47% to 45%. Among Independents, Biden and Trump are in a statistical tie at 44%. In a matchup between Biden and DeSantis, DeSantis has a slight edge over Biden 47% to 44%, though that edge grows larger among Independents at 48% to 40%, respectively. In a matchup between Biden and Youngkin, Youngkin has the edge over Biden 54% to 39%, including a significant advantage among Independents at 54% to 35%, respectively.
Most important issues in Virginia
The Roanoke College Poll again asked Virginians what they feel is the most important issue facing Virginia today. A plurality (46%) of Virginians cited the economy, jobs or inflation as the most important issue in the commonwealth, though the percentage citing inflation has dropped five points to 22% (from 27% in November). (See full report on Virginia Consumer Sentiment here.) We found additional drops in concern about issues related to abortion (9% in November, 5% now) and climate change (8% in November, 4% now). The percentage of Virginians who feel that crime is the most important issue in the commonwealth increased five points to 13% (from 8% in November). The percentage of Virginians who think other issues are most important remained relatively constant at 10% for gun policy, 4% for immigration, 5% for voting/elections, 4% for race issues and 1% for COVID-19.
Issues in education policy and K-12 schools
The Roanoke College Poll asked Virginians for their opinions about a variety of issues related to education policy and K-12 schools. The poll asked respondents to report how much control teachers, parents, local school boards, principals and superintendents, federal government, state government and local government should have over what is taught in K-12 public schools. A majority of respondents thought that all of the stakeholders should have some control or more over what is taught in schools, with teachers (83%), local school boards (81%), principals and superintendents (80%) and parents (78%) receiving the highest percentage of responses in the “great deal of control” and “some control” responses. Compared to the last time the poll asked these questions, in October 2021, we found a four-point decrease in respondents who think teachers (87% in Oct. 2021, 83% now) and parents (82% in Oct. 2021, 78% now) should have some control or more over what is taught in schools. We also found an eight-point increase in the percentage of respondents who think the federal government should have a great deal of control over what is taught in public schools.
There are significant partisan gaps in beliefs about who should control what is taught in schools. There is an 18-point gap between Democrats (67%) and Republicans (85%) in their beliefs about parents having some or more control over what is taught, as well as a 26-point gap between Democrats (68%) and Republicans (42%) in their beliefs about the federal government having some or more control over what is taught in schools. Utilizing questions from a recent Pew Research Center surveys of public attitudes about K-12 schools, we found that a majority (58%) of Virginians report a great deal or fair amount of confidence that public schools act in the best interest of children, with a large, 35-point partisan gap between Democrats (79%) and Republicans (44%). Alternatively, we found that a plurality (47%) of Virginians believe K-12 schools are having a negative effect on the way things are going in the country, but a plurality (49%) believes that K-12 schools are having a positive effect on the way things are going in Virginia. We found similar partisan gaps on both questions, including a 30-point gap (58% Democrats, 28% Republicans) on K-12 schools having a positive effect on the way things are going in the country and a 26-point gap (65% Democrats, 39% Republicans) on schools having a positive effect on the way things are going in Virginia.
Following recent surveys from the American Library Association, the poll asked Virginians whether they support or oppose efforts to remove books from public schools and local public libraries if some people find them offensive or inappropriate. Large majorities of Virginians oppose removing books from public schools (73%) and public libraries (81%) for these reasons, though partisan gaps exist here, as well. There is a 24-point gap (85% Democrats, 61% Republicans) between Democrats and Republicans in their opposition to removing books from public schools, and a 13-point gap (86% Democrats, 73% Republicans) in their opposition to removing books from public libraries.
The Roanoke College Poll is funded by Roanoke College as a public service.
“The story from this poll is that Virginians are more optimistic about the direction things are going in Virginia, though that sentiment does not translate to their feelings about the direction of the country,” said Bryan Parsons, senior political analyst at IPOR and the Roanoke College Poll. “While we see an eight-point increase in the percentage of Virginians who believe things are going in the right direction in Virginia, the poll also shows that Virginians remain pessimistic about the direction of the country with nearly seven in 10 saying they think things are on the wrong track.”
“This poll also shows small yet noticeable changes in the approval ratings for both President Biden and Gov. Youngkin. We see that Youngkin’s approval rating is up five points from our November poll and his unfavorable rating is down five points. While Biden’s three-point drop in approval rating is within our poll’s statistical margin of error, his favorability rating is also down four points from our November poll. As a testament to continued partisan polarization in Virginia and national politics, we see a 52-point gap between Democrats’ and Republicans’ approval of Youngkin and a 68-point gap between Democrats’ and Republicans’ approval of Biden.”
“This poll shows that only about a quarter of Virginians approve of the way the U.S. Congress is handling its job, which is down about four points from our November poll. The poll also shows that nearly half of Virginians approve of the way the Virginia General Assembly is handling its job, which is up four points from one year ago.”
“Looking ahead to the 2024 presidential election and the continued speculation about Youngkin’s intentions to start a presidential campaign, about a third of Virginians think that he should seek the Republican nomination for president. While Youngkin’s approval and favorability numbers are up, the percentage of Virginia Republicans who believe he should run for president dropped 10 points from the November poll.”
“When we asked Virginia Republicans in our poll who they would most prefer to be the Republican nominee for president in 2024, two candidates stood out among the rest: Trump and DeSantis. The rest of the potential field of candidates received a little over a quarter of the remaining support combined. Although DeSantis has not officially announced his candidacy, this result suggests that he could be a competitive challenger to Trump in the 2024 Republican nomination race.”
“When we asked Virginia Republicans who their second choice would be, Youngkin received the highest support, followed by DeSantis, Trump and the rest of the potential field in single digits. While this is likely a Virginia effect, it suggests that, at least among Virginia Republicans, Youngkin is held in high regard among the other popular candidates for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.”
“Virginians remain concerned about the economy, jobs and inflation, though we do see a five-point drop in the percentage of Virginians who cite inflation as the most important issue facing the commonwealth. At the same time, we see a five-point increase in the percentage of Virginians who cite crime as the most important issue facing Virginia.”
“When compared to the last time we surveyed Virginians about issues in education in October 2021, we see a four-point decrease in Virginians’ opinions that teachers and parents should have a ‘great deal’ or ‘some’ control over what is taught in public schools. We also see an eight-point increase in Virginians’ opinions that the federal government should have a ‘great deal’ of control over what is taught in schools. This likely reflects some of the state and local conflict we have seen about education issues in Virginia, as well as the attention education issues have received nationally.”
“With education issues in recent news cycles, we asked Virginians about their degree of confidence in public schools acting in the best interests of children,” Parsons said. “While we find that a solid majority of Virginians report a ‘great deal’ or ‘fair amount’ of confidence in public schools, we also find significant differences across party. We see a 35-point gap between Democrats and Republicans, which is likely due to the increasing partisan polarization around education issues in Virginia and across the country.”
“About half of Virginians report that K-12 public schools are having a positive effect on the way things are going in Virginia, while nearly four in 10 say they are having a negative effect. There is a 26-point partisan gap in beliefs about public schools having a positive effect on the direction of Virginia. On a national level, only four in 10 Virginians believe that schools are having a positive effect on the ways things are going in the country. Again, partisan differences emerge as nearly six in 10 Democrats and three in 10 Republicans believe schools are having a positive effect nationally.”
Interviewing for the Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, between Feb. 12 and Feb. 21, 2023. A total of 680 completed interviews came from random telephone calls to 415 Virginians, and 265 responses were drawn from a proprietary online panel of Virginians. Telephone interviews were conducted in English. Cell phones constituted 58% of the completed phone interviews. Marketing Systems Group provided the telephone dialing frame, and Lucid, LLC facilitated the online panel.
Questions answered by the sample of 680 respondents are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4.23% at the 95% confidence level. This means that in 95 out of 100 samples like the one used here, the results should be at most 4.23 percentage points above or below the figure obtained by interviewing all Virginians with 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 Virginia data in the 2021 one-year American Community Survey (ACS). The design effect was 1.267; the reported margin of error above reflects this design effect.
A copy of the questions and all toplines may be found here.
More information about the Roanoke College Poll may be obtained by contacting Bryan Parsons at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-375-4967 or the Roanoke College Public Relations Office at 540-375-2282 or email@example.com. roanoke.edu/IPOR
For more about the Institute for Public Opinion Research, click here.
CONTACT: Dr. Bryan Parsons, Senior Political Analyst, IPOR