Almost 30 percent of Virginians undecided on which party should control the General Assembly

The Virginia state capitol building facing its southern facade with tall columns and a wide stair...
Support for a Democrat-controlled General Assembly has dropped 9 percentage points since July 2018 (52% percent to 43% percent). (Getty Images)

With every House and Senate seat up for election in November, nearly 30% of Virginians remain unsure of which party should win control of the General Assembly in 2020, according to a new poll by the Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.

Support for a Democrat-controlled General Assembly dropped 9 percentage points since July 2018 (52% to 43%), while the percentage of respondents saying they didn’t know who should have control increased by 12 percentage points in the same time frame (17% to 29%).

Independents (76%) were most likely to say “don’t know,” compared to only 13% of Democrats and 19% of Republicans reporting uncertainty.

Job approval for the General Assembly and administration

Approval ratings for how the General Assembly handles its job also dropped 7 percentage points, from 38% of respondents approving strongly or somewhat in December 2018 to 31% currently. In the current poll, 14% of respondents volunteered that they were indifferent or neither approved or disapproved.

While Democrats (40%) were more likely to approve of the job being done by the current General Assembly (compared to 24% of Republicans and 20% of independents), almost a quarter of Democrats (23%) and Republicans (27%) said “don’t know.” Independents were the most likely to report being uncertain, with 45%.

Governor’s job approval

The approval rating for Gov. Ralph Northam hovers at approximately 40%. Thirty-seven percent of Virginians say they strongly or somewhat approve of the way Northam is handling the job of governor. Even after a tumultuous General Assembly session, this represents only a 4% decrease from December 2018 (which is statistically insignificant). Thirty-five percent still say don’t know, but this is a decrease from 43% in December 2018.

Almost half of Virginians said “don’t know” when asked about how Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring are handling their jobs, 47% and 46% respectively. For Fairfax, the remaining respondents were almost evenly split on whether they approve (29%) or disapprove (24%). Herring has a higher approval with 37% and only 17% saying they disapprove strongly or somewhat.

For Northam, minorities were still more likely to strongly or somewhat approve of how he is handling his job (44%), while whites were almost evenly split (33% approving and 32% disapproving). Fairfax also was more likely to receive approval from minorities (40%), while whites were more evenly split (22% approving and 27% disapproving).

Northam was more likely to have the approval of women, with 42% approving strongly or somewhat, compared to 32% of men. Women also were more likely to strongly or somewhat approve of the job Fairfax is doing (34% versus 25% of men); however, both genders were most likely to say “don’t know,” with 48% of women and 46% of men. For Herring, there was no statistically significant difference in approval based on gender or race.

All members of the administration were more likely to have Democrats approve of how they were handling their jobs. However, the margins are not as wide as one might expect and the percentage of respondents saying “don’t know” remains large, especially with independents. Northam has the largest level of support from Democrats with 60% saying they approve strongly or somewhat. Herring also had majority Democrat approval with 53%. A plurality of Democrats (47%) said they approved strongly or somewhat of the job Fairfax is doing.

Other significant findings:

  • On who should control the General Assembly: Women (47%), those with lower levels of income (55%), and minorities (59%) also were more likely to prefer Democrat control, while those ages 35 to 44 (40%), and those making $100,000 or more (50%) were more likely to prefer Republican control. Regionally, those living in Northern Virginia (51%) and the South Central region (60%) were more likely to prefer Democrat control, while the Northwest and Western regions were more likely to prefer Republican control (48% and 39%, respectively).
  • On how the General Assembly is handling its job: Minorities (37%) were more likely than whites (26%) to approve of the job being done, as were those between ages 45 and 64 (40%). Those between the ages of 35 and 44 (42%) were more likely to disapprove, while those ages 18 to 34 (49%) were more likely to say they didn’t know. Those with a college degree or more (36%) were also more likely to approve, while those with an education level of high school or less (40%) were more likely to say that they didn’t know. Considering the regional breakdown, those in the Tidewater (40%) and Northern Virginia (33%) regions were more likely to approve, while the South Central region was evenly split with 28% approving and 28% disapproving, and the Western region (26%) was more likely to be indifferent. Those living in the Northwest (45%) were most likely to say that they didn’t know.
  • On Northam’s job approval: Those in the Tidewater (49%), South Central (42%) and Northern Virginia (40%) regions were more likely to approve, and those in the Northwest (50%) and Western regions (39%) were more likely to say they didn’t know. Women (42%) were more likely than men (32%) to approve of the job that Northam is doing, as were participants over age 65 (53%). Younger participants ages 18 to 34 (60%) were most likely to say that they didn’t know.
  • On Fairfax’s job approval: Those in the Tidewater region (40%) were more likely to approve, those in Northern Virginia were nearly evenly split (33% approving and 31% disapproving), and those in the South Central (51%) Western (54%) and Northwest (64%) regions were more likely to say that they didn’t know.
  • On Herring’s job approval: Those ages 35 to 44 (52%) were most likely to approve of the job that he is doing, and those ages 18 to 34 (70%) were most likely to say that they didn’t know. Those in the Tidewater (41%), Northern Virginia (41%) and Western regions (39%) were more likely to approve, and those in the South Central (55%) and Northwest (67%) regions were more likely to say that they didn’t know.

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 217 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Thirty-eight of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, MCV Physicians and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.

About the Wilder School and the Center for Public Policy

The L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, named for the nation’s first African-American elected governor, is a top-50 nationally ranked public affairs school. Located blocks from the state Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, the school enrolls about 1,000 undergraduates and 400 graduate students in eight academic programs. The Wilder School’s 10,000-plus alumni work across the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Drawing on the wide-ranging expertise of Wilder School faculty, the Center for Public Policy's programs provide diverse public-facing services including leadership development and training, economic and policy impact analysis, survey insights and program evaluation to clients in state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, businesses and the general public, across Virginia and beyond. For more, please visit https://wilder.vcu.edu/center-for-public-policy/.