Quarter of Virginians don’t know which party they want to win control of General Assembly in 2019

A VCU Wilder School Poll found 42 percent want Democrats in control, 33 percent favor Republicans and 25 percent are undecided.

A December poll by the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs found 42 percent...
A December poll by the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs found 42 percent of Virginians want Democrats to control the General Assembly in 2020 while 33 percent favor Republicans and 25 percent are undecided. (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

With every House of Delegates and state Senate seat up for election this November, and both chambers narrowly held by Republicans, a quarter of Virginians don’t know yet which party they want to control the General Assembly in 2020, according to a new poll by the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.  

A plurality of 42 percent would like to see Democrats take control, compared to 33 percent who prefer that Republican control continue. Republicans currently hold a 51-to-49 seat edge over Democrats in the 100-member House, while the GOP controls the state Senate 21 to 19.

The poll also showed that a large portion of the public is uncertain how to grade Gov. Ralph Northam (43 percent) and the General Assembly (40 percent) on their job performance. 

The poll, a random sample of 805 adults in Virginia conducted by landline and cell telephone from Dec. 3-13, has a margin of error of 3.45 percent.

“Legislators appear to have an opportunity in the 2019 legislative session to make the case that their party should be in control this time next year to a significant group of undecided Virginians,” said Robyn McDougle, Ph.D., director of the Wilder School’s Center for Public Policy, which conducted the 2018-19 Winter Public Policy Poll.

The narrow but statistically significant margin in favor of Democrats depends on several key demographics. Women, the poll finds, prefer Democrats in control by a 20-percentage point margin (49 percent to 29 percent) while men prefer Republican control by only a 3-percentage point margin (38 percent to 35 percent). 

Minority respondents prefer Democrats in control by a 40-point margin (61 percent to 21 percent) while white respondents prefer Republicans in control by a narrower 7-point margin (41 percent to 34 percent). 

Three of five regions show a statistically significant preference for Democratic control: Northern Virginia, with a 20-percentage point favor; South Central, 15 points; and Tidewater, 11 points. The West region prefers Republican control by a significant 15 percentage point margin (46 percent to 31 percent) while the Northwest is a virtual tie

Job approval for governor, General Assembly

Additional findings of the poll show that 43 percent of respondents didn’t know, or refused to say, whether they approve of the performance of Northam, a Democrat, while 41 percent approved strongly (21 percent) or somewhat (20 percent) and 16 percent disapproved strongly (9 percent) or somewhat (7 percent). Of those who offered an opinion, 72 percent approved of his performance so far.

For the General Assembly, 40 percent were not willing to say whether they approve or disapprove, compared to 38 percent who strongly (12 percent) or somewhat (26 percent) approved and 22 percent who strongly (12 percent) or somewhat (10 percent) disapproved. Of those who had formed an opinion, 63 percent approved of the General Assembly’s performance strongly or somewhat.

Respondents also were asked whether they would favor or oppose three types of policies often recommended as ways to improve government efficiency. Provided with a description of increased audits, public-private partnerships or outsourcing, half or more of respondents favored each policy. Increased audits was favored by 75 percent of respondents, compared to 57 percent who favored public-private partnerships and 50 percent who favored outsourcing.   

“For policymakers interested in aligning efficiency efforts with public support, these findings show that increasing internal audits are the policy with the highest amount of support,” McDougle said.

For a PDF of the 23-page report, including complete question wording and detailed tables of results, go to oppo.vcu.edu/policy-poll/.

On Jan. 8, the Wilder School’s Center for Public Policy will release further poll results that cover issues of public safety, including gun policy, while a Jan. 10 release will examine economic development, including a question about Virginia landing part of the new Amazon headquarters, and funding for K-12 education.

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 and Level I trauma 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/.