Virginia voters identify as moderate, despite supporting Democrat policies
RICHMOND, Va. - In a recent poll, Virginia voters 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% support among voters. A majority of Virginians support providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (73%). Almost all Virginians support a pathway to citizenship for children brought to this country illegally by their parents (94%).
Over half of Virginians agree with implementing an environmentally friendly redesign of the state’s economy and infrastructure (65%); that the economic system favors the wealthy (61%); and that the federal minimum wage should be $15 per hour (53%).
Bromley-Trujillo believes this 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 $15 minimum wage, providing health care and child care for all Virginians, said 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%, 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% to 23% in the Virginia Democratic primary. In a somewhat closer local race, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney defeated Rodgers by over 10% 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 and passed in Virginia.
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.
Ballot counting is currently underway in the Republican convention for the party’s top executive nominees. The commonwealth has not had a Republican governor since Bob McDonnell was elected in 2009.
As of Monday, only the Republican attorney general candidate had been determined. 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. The ranked choice voting went three rounds. Smith’s strong showing could indicate support for more ideologically conservative candidates such as Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Midlothian, who is seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination and describes herself as “Trump in heels.” Round one of counting shows Chase in a lead over Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, but behind candidates and businessmen Glenn Youngkin and Pete Snyder.
“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.
Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.