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By Dr. Harry Wilson

Roanoke College Poll: Opinions of Virginians on politics in May 2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by 12 percentage points (51%-39%) in Virginia according to The Roanoke College Poll. Each is viewed favorably by 36 percent of respondents, but Trump is viewed unfavorably by 49 percent while Biden’s unfavorable rating is 39 percent. U.S. Senator Mark Warner leads his undetermined Republican opponent (48%-31%). Warner’s favorable/unfavorable numbers stand at 37%/21%. The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research interviewed 563 potential Virginia voters* between May 3 and May 17 and has a margin of error of +4.1 percent. In what was then a hypothetical matchup, Biden led Trump 48%-40% in February. More than nine of 10 (91%) said they care a great deal who wins the presidential election in November, and 94 percent said it was very likely they would vote.

More than 90 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners said they would vote for Biden, while just under 90 percent of Republicans and their leaners said they would vote for Trump. Only 2 percent in each party said they would cross over to vote for the other party’s candidate. Only 2 percent said they were unsure about their vote, while 8 percent said they would vote for another candidate.

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

A majority of Virginians (54%) disapprove of the way President Trump is handling his job, while just over one-third (36%) approve. That 36 percent figure matches the February Roanoke College Poll’s second-highest approval rating for Trump since he took office.

A majority (61%) of respondents think the country is on the wrong track, while 33 percent think it is headed in the right direction, which is significantly more negative than the last measurement in February 2020. Three-fifths (63%) disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job. The 20 percent who approve of Congress matches its high in February 2020 and three years prior to that.

Job approval for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam soared to 59 percent, up from 40 percent in February, while 29 percent disapprove of his performance. More than half (57%) of respondents think that Virginia is headed in the right direction while 37 percent think it is on the wrong track. Northam was viewed favorably by 46 percent of respondents, up from 27 percent in February and the highest of his term. He was seen unfavorably by 31 percent, down only slightly from February.

For comparison, we included New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on our list for favorable/unfavorable (43% favorable; 24% unfavorable). It is interesting that his numbers are close to those of Senator Warner, but the percentage of respondents who don’t know enough about the person to have an opinion is 30 percent for Warner compared to only 24 percent for Cuomo.

Political anxiety

IPOR continues to track political anxiety in the Commonwealth. More than eight in 10 (81%) of Virginians trust the federal government to do what is right only some of the time or never. For the first time in measuring the variable, a plurality (49%) thinks there is not much ordinary citizens can do to influence the federal government. Half (50%) think their side is losing more than winning in politics today.

Most respondents (60%) think the country’s best years are ahead, while just under one-third (31%) think its best years have passed. Overall, a large majority of Virginians (86%) continue to see the nation divided regarding the important issues facing the United States. 

Nearly half of respondents (49%) are dissatisfied with how the federal government is (or isn’t) working. Another 19 percent are angry, while only 25 percent are satisfied, and 3 percent are enthusiastic. Each of these measures has remained relatively constant over time, but responses of subgroups vary. This poll saw the lowest level of political efficacy we have seen in three years of measurements, but slightly higher optimism for the future.

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


“Biden has slightly increased his lead over Trump in the past three months, but his favorable/unfavorable splits may cause Biden’s campaign some concern,” said Dr. Harry Wilson, director of the Roanoke College Poll. “Trump’s numbers were mostly unchanged by impeachment and now COVID-19. Events appear to be unrelated to how he is viewed in the Commonwealth. As is often true in the current political climate, the election will be decided by who turns out, and Democrats have outnumbered Republicans for the past several federal and statewide elections in Virginia.”

“While the coronavirus is certainly negative for people, it has been a boon for perceptions of Governor Northam,” Wilson said. “His job rating and favorable views are not only at all-time highs, but they shattered those previous records.”

“The fact that Virginians are more likely to have an opinion of N.Y. Governor Cuomo than Mark Warner speaks both for itself and perhaps, the lasting power of television and a loud voice,” Wilson said. “Still, Warner’s favorable rating suggests that it will be extremely difficult for whichever candidate the Republicans choose to defeat him.”


Interviewing for The Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia between May 3 and May 16, 2020. A total of 603 Virginia residents were interviewed. For election-related questions, respondents were screened to include only those 563 Virginians who are registered voters or are likely to register prior to the November election and are likely to vote in November. 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 57 percent of the completed interviews.

Questions answered by the entire sample of 603 respondents are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4.0 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 4.0 percentage points above or below the figure that would be obtained by interviewing all Virginians who have a home telephone or a cellphone. The potential voter sample of 563 has a margin of error of +4.1 percent. 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.

More information about the Poll may be obtained by contacting Dr. Harry Wilson at or (540) 375-2415 or the Roanoke College Public Relations Office at (540) 375-2282.

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

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