virginia flag and capitol building in Richmond
9.26.2017
By Dr. Harry Wilson

RC Poll: Gillespie closes the gap on Northam in Va Governor's race

Republican Gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie has narrowed the gap, and he now trails Democrat Ralph Northam by only four percentage points (47%-43%), which is within the margin of error. Libertarian Cliff Hyra has the support of five percent of likely voters, and only five percent remain undecided, according to The Roanoke College Poll. The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research interviewed 596 likely voters in Virginia between September 16 and September 23 and has a margin of error of +4 percent.

The race for governor  

Voters are also becoming more familiar with both major party candidates. Gillespie (34%-27%) and Northam (32%-25%) are viewed more favorably than unfavorably by voters. While 26 percent don't know enough about Gillespie to have an opinion about him, and 34 percent don't know enough about Northam, both figures are significantly lower than those in the August RC Poll.    

Health care was named as the most important issue by 20 percent of likely voters. Economic issues (jobs, growth, etc.) are seen as most important by 15 percent of respondents with another 5 percent saying taxes and 1 percent referencing debt. Education was thought to be most important by 9 percent.  

In the contest among two groups often thought to be pivotal in elections, Northam leads among ideological moderates (51%-32%), but Gillespie holds an insignificant lead among political Independents (42%-40%). Northam has the support of 85 percent of Democrats, while Gillespie is supported by 91 percent of Republicans. Liberals favor Northam (81%-9%) while Conservatives prefer Gillespie (77%-13%). 

President Trump, the country, and the Commonwealth

While more than half of those polled (56%) disapprove of the way President Trump is handling his job, and just over one-third (36%) approve, his approval rose eight percent in a month. At the same time, a majority (54%) of respondents have an unfavorable view of him, while 35 percent have a favorable impression of Trump.  

A majority (63%) of Virginians think the country is on the wrong track, while 30 percent think it is headed in the right direction. Congressional job approval sits at 11 percent, an abysmal figure but one that is slightly higher than a month ago.  

A majority of likely voters (52%) think that Virginia is heading in the right direction, while 37 percent think it has gotten off on the wrong track. Almost half (49%) approve of the job Terry McAuliffe is doing as governor, while 33 percent disapprove. McAuliffe is viewed favorably by 42% of respondents.    

Immigration and Confederate monuments  

IPOR continues to track important issues in the Commonwealth. A majority (61%) of likely voters disagree with President Trump's decision to end DACA (32% agree), and the same number (61%) oppose building the wall along the Mexican border. While a plurality (45%) think that the number of people currently allowed to legally immigrate to the United States each year (just over 1 million) is about right, 31 percent think that is too many, and only 14 percent think it is too few. Virginians are split between favoring a system that attempts to keep families together (43%) or one that favors immigrants with job skills (41%). Finally, Virginians prefer a path to citizenship (55%) for undocumented immigrants, while 28 percent would allow them to become legal residents, and 13 percent favor deportation. Sentiment regarding immigration has changed little since we asked about that issue in February 2017.  

With regard to Confederate monuments, a majority (62%) views them as historical objects, while only 28 percent see them as racist symbols. Two-thirds of respondents (66%) favor keeping statues honoring Confederate leaders such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson intact, while 28 percent think they should be removed. Support for keeping the monuments to Civil War soldiers in place is even higher (76% think they should remain and 14% favor removal). Just over one-third of likely voters (36%) had at least one ancestor who fought in the Civil War, with a plurality of those (38%) having ancestors on both sides (35% had relatives who fought for the Confederacy, and 20% had Union soldier ancestors). 

When asked the major cause of the war, a plurality said slavery (44%), followed by state's rights (36%). Support for removing the monuments that commemorate the soldiers who fought in the Civil War has increased since a similar question was asked in August 2015, when only 5 percent of respondents thought they should be removed. 

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

Other Issues

Other issues polled include views of drug use, in which a majority of those polled (55%) think drug use should be treated as a health problem rather than a crime (30%). Two-thirds of respondents (67%) think we should deal with non-violent felons in ways other than incarceration. More Virginians think the bigger priority for the criminal justice system should be reducing racial bias (49%) rather than strengthening law and order (38%).  

Respondents also favor offering tax incentives to business to locate in certain areas of the Commonwealth (61%) and favor free community college tuition (57%). A majority (52%) believes that state tax cuts would benefit all taxpayers and help grow the economy. On a First Amendment question, 78 percent think that everyone has a right to speak and march regardless of their views, but 20 percent think that some ideas are so repulsive that those who hold them should not be allowed to speak or march.

Analysis  

"It certainly looks like we have a competitive race for governor," said Harry Wilson, director of the Roanoke College Poll. "Northam and Gillespie are close in the current vote tally, in their favorable/unfavorable ratings, and in their issues. Voters agree with Northam on free community college and Gillespie on cutting taxes.  They side with Northam on immigration but with Gillespie on Confederate monuments."  

"In an election that may well be decided by turnout, neither side has an advantage as of today, with 86% of Republicans and 87% of Democrats saying they are very likely to vote."    

Methodology  

Interviewing for The Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. between September 16 and September 23, 2017. A total of 596 likely voters in Virginia were interviewed. Telephone interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The sample was drawn from a list of registered voters, compiled by L2 Political, which has phone numbers associated with approximately 60 percent of the registered voters in Virginia. The list included both landlines and cell phones. Cell phones constituted 33 percent of the completed interviews. 

Questions answered by the entire sample of 596 residents are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4 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 percentage points above or below the figure that would be obtained by interviewing all Virginia likely voters 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, age and political party. Weighting was done to match the 2013 Virginia statewide election exit poll. 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)
wilson@roanoke.edu