Approval of both Trump's and Northam's handling of COVID-19 has fallen since April, VCU poll finds

A person wearing a mask while shopping at a grocery store.
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Angelica Bega
Executive assistant to L. Douglas Wilder
(804) 828-8520 or

Farrah Stone, Ph.D.
Poll Director
(804) 305-3447 or

President Donald Trump and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam saw approval ratings for their handling of the COVID-19 crisis drop since April, according to a new statewide poll conducted by the Center for Public Policy at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.

An infographic summarizing findings from a Wilder School at VCU poll.

Trump had a decrease in approval of 7 percentage points, creating a majority of 55% disapproving somewhat or strongly of how he is handling the response. While Northam had a decrease of 15 percentage points, a majority of Virginians (61%) still approve strongly or somewhat of how he’s handling the response to COVID-19. Virginians from the Northwest and West regions, men, Republicans and those with a high school diploma or less were more likely to approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis. Conversely, residents from Northern Virginia and Tidewater, women, Democrats and those with a college education were more likely to approve of Northam’s response.

The poll also provides additional insight into Virginians’ opinions on mask wearing, racial equity, confederate monuments and a snapshot of the 2020 presidential election in Virginia.

“Not surprisingly, Virginians are concerned about the economy,” said former governor L. Douglas Wilder. “They now recognize the pandemic to be more important than before (the previous poll).”

“The decrease in Trump and Northam’s positive handling of the pandemic is indicative of the increase in concerns related to the pandemic,” Wilder said.

“The poll also reflects growing concerns about racism in any measure: systemic, the removal of statues, and/or police reform,” he said. “What we have is one thing (racism); what we do about it is another.” 

The telephone survey of 838 adults living in Virginia was conducted between July 11-19. It has an estimated margin of error of ±5.19 percentage points for all adults sampled, and ±6.40 percentage points for likely voters.

The entire poll with detailed analysis tables and graphics can be found at Among the key findings:

  • Six-in-ten Virginians (60%) believe wearing masks is helping a lot in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Another 21% said wearing masks helps a little. Only 18% said the practice does not help much or at all. Virginians in Northern Virginia and the South Central region were more likely to think masks help a lot. Education and income were significant in the opinion, with 71% of those with a college degree and 70% of those with a family income of more than $100,000 per year saying masks help a lot. Minorities (with 66% vs. 56% of whites) and Democrats (with 76% vs. 44% of Republicans and 60% of independents) also were more likely to say masks help a lot.

  • Joe Biden leads Trump by 11 percentage points among likely voters in Virginia. When likely voters were asked how they would vote if the election were held today, 50% said Biden, while 39% said Trump. Support for Biden was almost unchanged, with a 1 percentage point increase since April. Again, gender and level of education were significant to the vote choice. Women prefer Biden by 21 percentage points (52% Biden/31% Trump) and men prefer Trump by 11 percentage points (49% Trump/38% Biden). Those with a college degree or more prefer Biden by 22 percentage points (54% Biden/32% Trump) compared to those with a high school diploma or less who prefer Trump by 14 percentage points (51% Trump/37% Biden).

  • The economy is the most important issue to likely voters in the presidential election, followed by health care and COVID-19. Eighty-two percent of likely voters said the economy was one of the most or very important issues in the upcoming election. Seventy percent said the same of health care; and 66% said the same of the coronavirus outbreak. The economy had a similar level of importance to all demographic groups. Women, Democrats and minorities were more likely to say health care and COVID-19 were more important. The coronavirus outbreak was a more important issue to respondents in Northern Virginia and Tidewater, where cases have been increasing in recent weeks.

  • Systemic racism, police reform and immigration were still important to likely voters with over half saying all three were one of the most or a very important issue in their vote. Women, minorities and Democrats were more likely to say these three issues were more important to their vote.

  • Virginians’ support has shifted away from leaving confederate monuments where they are to relocating them to museums. A plurality of Virginians (38%) think that the remaining confederate monuments should be moved to museums, an increase of 15 percentage points from December 2017. The percentage of Virginians who think the monuments should be left in place has decreased 17 percentage points in the same time period, from 49% in 2017 to 32% currently. Only 14% of Virginians think the monuments should be removed altogether.

  • Virginians’ views on racial equity is significant to vote choice and opinion about confederate monuments. Respondents were asked whether they thought Blacks in the U.S. are treated as fairly as whites or whether changes need to be made for fair treatment. Almost 6-in-10 Virginians (59%) said changes need to be made for fair treatment to occur.  Thirty-five percent said Blacks are treated as fairly as whites. That opinion was significant to vote choice and what should be done with the remaining confederate monuments. Eighty-two percent of those who say Blacks are treated fairly now say they will vote for Trump. Of those who say we need change, 71% will vote for Biden. Respondents who think Blacks are treated fairly were more likely to say the monuments should be left in place, with 65%, while respondents who think changes need to be made were more likely to say the monuments should be moved to museums, with 54%.

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 30,000 students in 233 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Twenty-two 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, and MCV Physicians. The clinical enterprise includes a collaboration with Sheltering Arms Institute for physical rehabilitation services. For more, please visit and