Virginia voters identify as moderate but support progressive policies, poll finds

By: - May 12, 2021 12:02 am

Voters cast ballots at Main Street Station in Richmond in 2020. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Cameron Jones/ Capital News Service

Virginia voters in a recent poll ranked themselves as moderate, with a slightly conservative lean, but indicated support of more progressive legislation.

The poll, released last week by Christopher Newport’s Wason Center for Civic Leadership, could be a thermometer for the upcoming November election.

Virginia voters ranked themselves an average of 5.83 on a zero to 10 scale (liberal to conservative). Republicans ranked themselves 8.11 on average, while Democrats rated themselves 3.57 on average. Independents ranked themselves 5.72.

“In this upcoming election, it is especially possible that it could be competitive,” said Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo, research director at the Wason Center.

Those surveyed support Democrat proposals on health care, immigration, environmental policy and the economy. The policy proposal with the strongest support was Medicare for all with 76 percent support among voters. A majority of Virginians support providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (73 percent). Almost all Virginians support a pathway to citizenship for children brought to this country illegally by their parents (94 percent).

More than half of Virginians agree with implementing an environmentally friendly redesign of the state’s economy and infrastructure (65 percent); that the economic system favors the wealthy (61 percent); and that the federal minimum wage should be $15 per hour (53 percent).

Bromley-Trujillo said the data indicates American culture aligns with idealism, liberty or other values often associated with conservatism. Strong support for Democratic public policy is why the commonwealth is still trending blue, even though upcoming races could still be competitive, she said.

“Virginia voters regard Republicans as more conservative than they regard Democrats as more liberal,” Bromley-Trujillo stated. “The question is, ‘Where’s the sweet spot in this election?’”

Democrats have been successful in the state because of policy ideas such as the increasing the minimum wage, and health care and child care for all Virginians, said former Richmond mayoral candidate Alexsis Rodgers, Virginia director for Care in Action, a nonprofit advocacy group for domestic workers.

“These aren’t partisan issues for voters,” Rodgers said. “They are ideas and policies that would actually make their lives better.”

While there is voter support for progressive policy, big elections in the commonwealth have seen progressive losses to more centrist candidates. Nearly half of Democratic voters back former Gov. Terry McAuliffe at 47 percent, with no other candidates breaking double digits, according to an April Wason Center poll. More than a quarter of surveyed voters were undecided.

President Joe Biden defeated independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders 53 percent to 23 percent in the Virginia Democratic primary. In a somewhat closer local race, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney defeated Rodgers by 10 percentage points last November. Rodgers said that while these elections were a loss for progressive candidates, the movement is still winning by having their policy ideas adopted.

Richmond For All is a political advocacy group for progressive policy. The organization has organized around local elections, education, housing justice and in opposition to a public subsidy for a Richmond-based sports arena.

“In the U.S, we are still living in this Reagan-era paradigm where progressivism is still seen as harmful, and big government programs are abstractly negative,” said Quinton Robbins, political director at Richmond For All.

Robbins said that it does not matter how Virginians ideologically identify themselves. He said it does matter how progressives present ideas to everyday citizens.

The Virginia GOP’s nominee for governor will be former businessman and political newcomer Glenn Youngkin, who was selected after several rounds of ranked-choice voting Monday during the party’s convention.

Virginia GOP picks Glenn Youngkin as its nominee for governor. Here’s what we know about him. 

Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, eked out a victory over Chuck Smith, former chairman of the Virginia Beach GOP and a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump, in the attorney general nomination contest. Former Del. Winsome Sears, who was the first Black woman Republican elected to the General Assembly, won the nomination for lieutenant governor.

“Certainly, the opportunity exists for Republicans to make gains in the Virginia House, and differential partisan turnouts would be one of the reasons Republicans regain majority control, if that happens,” said Stephen Farnsworth, professor and director at the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.

Farnsworth also questioned if Democratic voters will turn out with the same energy as when Trump was president.

“We will find out later this year whether the Republicans in the suburbs are able to win back some of the ground lost during the Trump years,” he said.

Early voting is now underway for the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general Democratic primary elections on June 8. Republican and Democratic candidates for the House of Delegates are also on the ballot.

Virginia Mercury Editor Robert Zullo contributed.

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Capital News Service
Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program cover news for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.