Do Virginians believe “having a strong economy” or “having a functioning Democracy” is a bigger concern? A Roanoke College phone survey asked the question, as WFIR’s Ian Price reports.

From Roanoke College — The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research (IPOR) at Roanoke College interviewed 652 adult residents of Virginia between November 13 and November 22 in a survey addressing topics such as the midterm elections, political anxiety, abortion, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s national spotlight, and general feelings about current and former elected officials. The survey has a margin of error of 4.48%.

Governor Youngkin, Trump and the National Spotlight

The Roanoke College Poll asked Virginians’ opinions about Youngkin and the national spotlight. With continued speculation that Youngkin may run forpresident in 2024, we found that 34% of Virginians think he should run, while 52% do not, mirroring similar sentiment from August. Among Republicans, a slight majority (52%) feel that he should seek the party’s nomination for president. Regarding former President Donald Trump, 59% of Virginians somewhat or strongly disagree with his decision to run again in 2024; when only Republicans are considered, only 59% felt somewhat or strongly that he should actually run.

When the Roanoke College Poll asked Republicans in August who they would vote for in the Republican primary, 28%picked Youngkin, while 62% selected Trump; in this month’s poll, Youngkin has gained substantial ground, taking 39% of the Republican vote compared to 52% for Trump. Just 7% mentioned voting for someone else or said they haven’t decided.

Approvals, Favorable/Unfavorable, Direction of Virginia, Country

Youngkin’s approval rating has remained relatively constant over the last several polls (53% in May, 55% in August and 52% now); disapproval has increased to 41% (up from 35% in August), which mirrors his disapproval rating shortly after he took office in January; Democrats’ approval of his job dropped to 31% from 37% in August. Approval for President Joe Biden has increased slightly, as well, up to 41% compared to 39% in August. Job approval for the U.S. Congress is up, now at 27% compared to 23% in August and 21% in February; Republicans and Independents drove that increase.

Half (50%) of Virginians currently have a favorable view of Youngkin, but 40% (up from 37% in August) have an unfavorable view. The increase in unfavorable views, unsurprisingly, comes from Democratic sentiment. Biden saw an increase (44% now compared to 41% in August) in favorable views and decline in unfavorability (51% now compared to 55% in August). This poll found that former President Trump’s favorability fell to 33%, down from 37% in August; unfavorability of the former president is now at 60% among Virginians. Consistent with how Republicans in Virginia see Trump compared to Youngkin, favorability of Trump dropped to 72% (from 77% in August) in that party.

When asked about the country, 28% of respondents said that things are going in the right direction, up from only 25% in August; 68% replied that things have gotten off on the wrong track, down from 72%. Regarding the commonwealth, less than half (47%) say that we are heading in the right direction, while 48% say we’re going in the wrong direction, expressing less optimism in our state compared to August.

American Democracy and the Economy

Following a recent CBS News/YouGov Battleground Tracker survey, we asked Virginians,“when they think about the next few years, which is a bigger concern for them right now” – “having a strong economy” or “having a functioning democracy.” We found that a slight majority (51%) of Virginians report being more concerned about having a strong economy, while 46% reported being more concerned about having a functioning democracy. Much like the results reported in the CBS News/YouGov poll, we found differences across party affiliation, with 67% of Republicans being more concerned about the economy and 63% of Democrats being more concerned about a functioning democracy. Independents were slightly more concerned about the economy.

This aligns with the most important issues Virginians believe are facing thecommonwealth today. Half (50%) of Virginians cite inflation, the economy or jobs as the most important issue facing the commonwealth, while gun policy, abortion, crime and climate change each garnered about 9% of the respondents as the most important issue. Election integrity and race issues were cited by about 4% or 5% of respondents.

Abortion and the Supreme Court

Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that overturned Roe v. Wade, the Roanoke College Poll found in May that 35% of Virginians felt abortion should be legal under any circumstance, 53% felt it should be legal under certain circumstances, and only 11% believed abortion should be totally illegal. Six months later, the Roanoke College Poll now found that 42% of respondents in Virginia feel that abortion should be legal under all circumstances, 45% believe it should be legal under some circumstances, and just 11% favor a total ban on abortion.

In August, 35% of Virginians agreed with the court’s decision to overturn the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision; that has decreased to 27% in this month’s poll. More Republicans and Independents here in Virginia nowdisagree with the Supreme Court’s decision than in August.

However, more Virginians (40% now compared to 37% in August) have a favorable view of the Supreme Court. A majority (53%) continue to have an unfavorable view. This increase was driven primarily by a slightly more favorable
view of the court by Democrats in Virginia.

Russia and Ukraine

With the ongoing war in Ukraine now in its 10th month, three-quarters (75%) of us continue to follow the news either very or somewhat closely. Democrats report following the news more closely now (84%) than in August (80%), while the opposite is true of Republicans (70% in August, 62% now). Fewer Virginians, though (55% now, 64% in August), believe that the worst is still yet to come; this change comes from both Democrats and Independents.

Gridlock in Washington

The Roanoke College Poll began shortly after the midterm elections on Nov. 8 when control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives started to become clearer. A plurality (42%) of Virginians feel that the results will “make no difference” in the ability of Washington to get things done, but more Virginias (29%) than not (25%) believe that the midterm election results will make it “more likely” for Congress to get things done for the country. We saw modest differences across party affiliation, with 39% of Democrats reporting that the midterm results will make it “more likely” to get things done in Washington, while only 26% of Republicans and 24% of Independents responded similarly.

Political Anxiety

IPOR has tracked political anxiety in the commonwealth since mid-2016, and those results were last reported in May. In this November poll, 78% of Virginians report trusting the federal government to do what is right only some of the time or never, virtually unchanged from May. A majority (58%) thinks that ordinary citizens can do a lot to influence the federal government, up six points from May. The poll found that a majority (58%) thinks their side is losing more than winning in politics today, and nearly a third (32%) thinks their side is winning more than losing, which represents a significant change in both responses from May. Separated by party, 56% of Democrats feel on the winning side, while only 18% of Republicans feel that way.

On one hand, half (50%) of Virginians believe that the country’s best years are ahead of it, which represents a six-point increase since May. Similarly, while a large majority of Virginians (82%) continues to see the nation divided regarding the important issues facing the country, 16% think that Americans are united in the challenges we face, the highest it has been since the index’s inception.

On the other hand, a majority of respondents (51%) is dissatisfied with how the federal government is working, with another 17% reporting feeling angry, 24% feeling satisfied, and just 6% feeling enthusiastic. In the aggregate, each of these measures has remained relatively stable over time, but the responses of subgroups have varied, particularly those of Democrats and Republicans, depending upon which party is in power. See the crosstabs at the end of the topline, linked at the end of this release, for more.

Six questions regarding political anxiety are used to construct our Political Anxiety Index, and data since late 2017 appears in the graph above. Higher numerical values represent more anxiety, with an index maximum value of 300 and minimum possible value of -300. (Note that in prior releases about anxiety, lower numbers meant more anxiety; current and past values have been flipped so that higher numbersdo reflect more anxiety, and this scale will continue to be used in the future.)

Political anxiety overall (grey line) had not changed much over the last four years with the exception of an all-time high in May, when gas prices had sharply increased, higher prices had been evident at stores for several months, and the draft opinion that led to Roe v. Wade being overturned had just been released. Anxiety has now returned to a normal value (69.3), down from 109.5 in May and similar to 65.7, which was the value a year ago. As usual, a large gap between Democrats (-36.5) and Republicans exists (156.6) with Independents solidly in the middle (not shown because Independents roughly follow the overall line). Those values in May, respectively, were 34.6 and 161.2; as we note over time, the party in the White House determines which party has less anxiety in the index. The current return to the “normal” level is due to the large change in index for Democrats since May; Republican anxiety decreased just slightly.


“The story from this poll is that Virginians have mixed feelings about the direction things are going in the country and in Virginia,” said Dr. Bryan Parsons, senior political analyst at IPOR and the Roanoke College Poll. “While we see a slight rise in the percentage of Virginians who believe things are going in the right direction in the country,
we see a slight drop in the percentage of those who believe things are going in the right direction in Virginia. Adding to that, slightly more than four in 10 Virginians believe that the results of the recent midterm elections will make no difference in being
able to get things done in Washington.”

“This poll also shows small yet noticeable changes in the approval ratings for both President Biden and Gov. Youngkin. President Biden’s approval rating is up slightly from our May poll earlier in the year. Gov. Youngkin’s approval rating is down slightly, but the more noticeable change is that his disapproval rating is up six points from the same May poll earlier in the year.”

“The favorability ratings for Biden and Youngkin are also worth mentioning since Virginians’ overall favorability of both leaders have improved slightly from our May poll earlier in the year. As for former President Trump, this poll records the highest unfavorable rating in IPOR polls since January 2016, with six in 10 Virginians reporting an unfavorable opinion of him.”

“Looking ahead to the 2024 presidential election, about a third of Virginians think that Gov. Youngkin should seek the Republican nomination, including a slight majority of Republicans (52%). As for former President Trump, a majority of Virginians (59%) either somewhat or strongly disagree with his decision to run for president in 2024. Republicans, however, are more supportive, with nearly six in 10 Republicans reporting that they somewhat or strongly agree with his decision to run. Interestingly, when we asked about a potential matchup between Youngkin and Trump in a Republican primary, a slight majority of Republicans (52%) reported that they would vote for Trump compared to 39% of Republicans who reported that they would vote for Youngkin instead.”

“Virginians’ unfavorable opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court remain unchanged from our last poll in August, but the percentage of Virginians who disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is up six points from August and up nine points from May, when we asked Virginians their attitudes about the draft opinion released before the decision. This result suggests that Virginians’ overall disagreement with the decision persists from when the news broke earlier this summer.”

“The percentage of Virginians who reported that they have been following the news about the war in Ukraine is virtually unchanged since our last poll in August, which suggests that we do not see any evidence of news fatigue about Ukraine. With that said, we saw a nine-point increase in the percentage of Virginians who think that the worst of the war is over. A little more than a third (36%) of Virginians reported that they think the worst of the war is over compared to 27% when we last conducted our poll in August.”

“Despite the record turnout we saw among young voters in the midterm elections, a little more than four in 10 Virginians think that the midterm results will not make a difference in the ability to get things done in Washington. Ultimately, additional gridlock in Washington may not do much to move the needle on the levels of political anxiety we continue to track in our polls.”

“Perhaps the most promising result for our November poll is that 16% of Virginians think that Americans are united in the issues and challenges facing the United States.While this is admittedly a small percentage compared to the eight in 10 who think we are still divided, the share of Virginians who think we are united is the highest that IPOR has recorded since we first began asking this question in August 2017, and it is an eight-point increase from August 2021. It is far too early to say that this result suggests we are becoming less divided, but perhaps it is a small step in the right direction.”