Jan. 7, 2020
Majority of Virginians think gun laws should be stricter and are willing to pay more for education, VCU poll finds
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Executive assistant to L. Douglas Wilder
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Farrah Stone, Ph.D.
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Ahead of the General Assembly session that starts tomorrow, a majority of Virginians favor stricter gun laws, with large majorities supporting background checks, limits on gun ownership for those with mental illness, and red flag laws, according to a statewide poll conducted by the Center for Public Policy at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.
The poll also found that Virginians believe public schools are underfunded and a majority of Virginians would be willing to pay more to support them. In addition, a majority of Virginians support Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposal to provide tuition-free community college.
“Our latest poll numbers suggest, as I have long maintained, that Virginia is a ‘must watch’ state,” said former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. “The issue of stronger gun laws is illustrative of the need for advocates at every level, to be involved, including public safety, health, housing, and education groups to demonstrate the need for change if such exists.”
The telephone survey of 818 adults living in Virginia was conducted Dec. 2-13. It has an estimated margin of error of plus or minus 4.80 percentage points.
Among the poll’s key findings:
- Virginians support stricter gun laws. A majority (53%) of Virginians say that gun laws should be stricter. Three-in-10 say laws are about right and only 17% think laws should be less strict.
- Large majorities support background checks, limits on gun ownership for those with mental illness, and red flag laws. Eighty-four percent of Virginians strongly or somewhat support laws to prevent the mentally ill from buying guns, and 83% support making private and gun show sales subject to background checks. About 7-in-10 respondents strongly favor each option (74% for background checks and 70% for purchases by people with mental illness). Eighty-two percent strongly or somewhat agree with red flag laws allowing removal of firearms from those who are deemed harmful to themselves or others, with 65% agreeing strongly. This finding is similar to the results from the July 2018 poll, when 85% agreed strongly or somewhat (60% agreeing strongly). A majority of both parties were supportive of these measures.
- Smaller majorities were in favor of banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Fifty-seven percent of Virginians either strongly or somewhat favor banning assault-style weapons, with 47% saying strongly favor; and 56% either strongly or somewhat favor banning high-capacity magazines, with 42% saying strongly favor. Gender, race and party affiliation were significant to the opinion, with women, minorities and Democrats and independents being more likely to favor the bans.
- Two-thirds of Virginians believe public schools are underfunded and majorities are willing to pay more for specific improvements. Sixty-six percent thought funding was not enough to meet public schools’ needs, while only 27% thought it was enough. More than 7-in-10 Virginians were willing to pay more in taxes to increase mental health services for students and to increase teacher pay (73% and 72%, respectively). Sixty-nine percent would pay more to increase funding to high-poverty, underperforming schools. Respondents were slightly less willing to pay for increasing community programs to help improve student achievement (62%) and hiring more school counselors (59%).
- A majority is supportive of the governor’s proposal to provide tuition-free community college. Sixty-three percent favor providing tuition-free community college to Virginia students, with 44% strongly favoring the measure. Age, income, race and party affiliation significantly affected the opinion. Those under 45 years old, those making less than $50,000 a year, minorities and Democrats were more likely to support the measure strongly.
- Virginians think unions for government workers overall are helpful but oppose public safety personnel going on strike. A plurality, 45%, think unionized government workers are helpful to a state, 34% think it’s harmful and 16% have no opinion. However, when asked whether public safety workers should be able to strike, 52% strongly or somewhat oppose. Forty-three percent strongly or somewhat favor the option. Those ages 18-34, those making less than $50,000 a year, minorities and Democrats were more likely to be supportive of public safety officers having the right to strike.
- Trump and the economy were the most salient reasons for vote choice in the last election. While reasons were pretty evenly split, Virginians were most likely to say their vote in the last election was a response to the Trump administration (23%) or the economy (21%), followed closely by health care (17%) and gun control (17%). Education was least likely noted with 12%. Men and Republicans were more likely to note the economy, while women, those making more than $100,000 a year and Democrats were more likely to cite Trump as their main reason.
For the full poll results and methodology, visit https://oppo.vcu.edu/media/oppo/Winter2019-20Release2.pdf.
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