Large majority of Virginians approve of how Northam is handling the COVID-19 crisis, VCU poll finds

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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

More than three-quarters of Virginians (76%) approve of the way Gov. Ralph Northam is handling the coronavirus crisis, with 40% strongly approving, 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.

Northam enjoys a high level of approval regardless of party affiliation, with about 7-in-10 Republicans and independents strongly or somewhat approving (68% and 70% respectively). Nine-in-10 Democrats approve, with 55% strongly approving of Northam’s handling of the crisis. Regionally, Tidewater is more likely to strongly approve with 55%, while in other regions between 33% and 39% strongly approve.

The poll, a telephone survey of 812 adults living in Virginia, was conducted between March 25 and April 8. It has an estimated margin of error of 4.51 percentage points for all adults sampled, and 5.68 percentage points for likely voters. The poll also provides additional insight into Virginians’ opinion of how the COVID-19 crisis is being handled on a national level as well as a snapshot of the 2020 presidential election in Virginia.

Among the poll’s key findings:

  • Virginians are almost evenly split about how well President Trump is handling the COVID-19 crisis. Fifty percent of Virginians strongly or somewhat approve of how Trump is handling the crisis, while 48% strongly or somewhat disapprove. Party identification and race are significant to the opinion. Eighty-three percent of Republicans approve, while 79% of Democrats disapprove. Independents are more evenly split with 52% approving and 45% disapproving. Racial minorities are more likely to disapprove of the job Trump is doing, with 62%, and 45% strongly disapproving. In comparison, 59% of whites approve strongly or somewhat, while 40% disapprove.
  • Overall, Virginians think the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is prepared to handle the COVID-19 crisis. Sixty-one percent think the CDC is very or somewhat prepared to handle a widespread coronavirus outbreak, with a plurality of 43% thinking it’s somewhat prepared. Republicans are more likely to think the CDC is prepared with 32% saying it’s very prepared, compared to 16% of independents and 9% of Democrats.
  • Biden leads Trump by 10 percentage points among likely voters in Virginia. When likely voters were asked how they would vote if the election were held today, 51% said Joe Biden, while 41% said Donald Trump. This represents an increase in support for Biden of 7 percentage points since our last reporting in December 2019. Gender and level of education are significant to the vote choice. Women prefer Joe Biden by 21 percentage points (57% Biden/36% Trump) and men prefer Trump by 4 percentage points (48% Trump/44% Biden). Those with a college degree or more prefer Biden by 24 percentage points (58% Biden/34% Trump) compared to those with a high school diploma or less who prefer Trump by 13 percentage points (53% Trump/40% Biden). Regionally, Biden has strong support in Northern Virginia (62% Biden/28% Trump) with a smaller lead in the Northwest, South Central and Tidewater. The West prefers Trump by 9 percentage points (Trump 52%/Biden 43%). Note: The survey was conducted before Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign.
  • Being the most qualified candidate is more important to likely voters than definitely having a female vice presidential candidate. Respondents are more likely to volunteer that they prefer the most qualified candidate regardless of gender (43%) when asked whether the Democratic presidential candidate should choose a woman as a running mate. Thirty-nine percent of likely voters agree that the Democrat candidate should choose a woman, only 12% disagree.

“Our poll, taken at one of the more interesting times in our nation's history reflects several things: On the national COVID-19 response, people see money in play as reflected in their favorable responses to money being returned to individuals and small businesses. Trump’s 50% approval rating relative to the COVID-19 handling is his strong personal appeal with his base, and could be the hidden magnet amongst the electorate,” said L. Douglas Wilder, distinguished professor and former Virginia governor. “On candidate Joe Biden, Northern Virginia voters clearly reflect the greater numbers and the preference for Biden is evident. Biden’s commitment to selecting a female running mate doesn’t convince many voters; the majority of whom believe the best qualified person should be selected.”

The entire report with detailed analysis tables and graphics can be found at