back to top

Public Weighs In on State Issues Via Roanoke College Poll

In anticipation of the 2011 General Assembly session in Virginia, the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College conducted a statewide survey of 601 residents.  The questionnaire covered a variety of issues, but focused primarily on fiscal issues—the budget, taxes, and spending.  Because of the timing of the poll not every possibility was covered, such as Governor McDonnell’s budget proposal which was released after the survey was completed.

General Views of the State and National Governments

A plurality of residents (46%) think sessions of the General Assembly are too short in duration, while about one-third (34%) think they are the right length.  Only 9% think they are too long.  More than half of the respondents (56%) think that members of the Assembly are compensated appropriately, and slightly more think they are paid too much (22%) rather than too little (18%).

A large majority of respondents (83%) trust the state government to do what is right at least some of the time, but they are split on whether the state is heading in the right direction (45%) or if things have gotten off track (43%).  A bare majority (51%) trust the national government at least some of the time, and by more than a three-to-one ratio, they think things in the country are off track (72%) rather than moving in the right direction (21%).

Over half of the those interviewed (57%) approve of the job Bob McDonnell is doing as Governor, while only 36% approve of the job Barack Obama is doing as President.

A majority of respondents (57%) think that government (state or national not specified) is trying to do things that should be left to individuals and businesses, while 34% think government should be doing more.  In the same vein, residents prefer a government that provides fewer services with lower taxes over a government that provides more services with higher taxes by more than two-to-one (68%-32%).

Specific Issues

ABC stores

While opinion is split, a slim majority of respondents would like to see the state get out of the business of selling alcohol.  About one-third (33%) think ABC stores should be sold if the Commonwealth can replace the lost revenue, and 18% said that the state simply should not be in the business of selling alcohol.  However, a significant plurality (41%) thinks the ABC stores should remain in their current status.


A strong majority (69%) supports the idea of a non-partisan commission redrawing legislative districts.


Virginia residents support a variety of measures that would crack down on illegal immigrants.  Strong majorities support allowing police to check a person’s immigration status during routine traffic stops (76%), requiring the government to verify the legal status of workers (84%), requiring school officials to collect information on students who cannot prove their legal status (68%), and increasing penalties for anyone who hires an illegal, knowingly or unknowingly (71%).

Health care

With regard to health care, residents are almost evenly split between thinking that it is purely an individual responsibility (38%),  a right for all citizens that should be provided by the government (34%), and supporting government-provided care for the elderly and the poor (29%).  A majority supports some role for the government in health care, but a sizeable minority sees health care as beyond the purview of government.

Most residents (59%) are not willing to pay higher taxes for universal health care.  As for what should happen to those without insurance (private or government-provided) who get sick, a plurality (43%) think that hospitals and doctors should be required to provide care for free or at a greatly reduced rate, and 28% think the government should pay for their care.  Just less than one-third (30%), think those without insurance should be responsible for their own care.

Budgeting, taxing, spending

In general, most respondents (72%) preferred a combination of budget cuts and tax increases as a means of balancing the budget, but a quarter (25%) preferred budget cuts alone, while only 3% preferred tax increases alone.  Of those who supported some form of budget cuts, 82% still supported the cuts even if it was a program that benefitted them or their family.  Similarly, 79% supported a tax increase even if it was one that they or their family would have to pay.

Presented with a scenario in which there had to be budget cuts, respondents were offered a choice of areas to cut—education (27%), health and human services (39%), public safety (29%), “all other items” (83%), and across-the-board cuts (52%).  Those who opposed cuts in all those areas chose “other areas” (47%) or across-the-board cuts (41%) when forced to choose one area.

Presented with a scenario in which there had to be tax increases, respondents were offered a choice of taxes to increase—the sales tax (58%), personal income tax (41%), business income tax (55%), cutting the state’s subsidy for the personal property tax (46%), and the gas tax (42%).  Those who opposed all those tax increases chose the sales tax (42%), business tax (21%), gas tax (19%), and the personal property reimbursement (11%) when forced to choose one area.


A question that has been asked on several polls over several years was repeated on this questionnaire.  As a means of providing additional funding for road improvement, residents remain relatively deadlocked between moving funds from other budget areas (28%), placing tolls on some highways (27%), increase funding only as permitted without any tax increases (20%), or increase taxes and designate those funds for roads (17%).  These percentages are largely unchanged over the past five years.

“Crosstabs”: Crosstab analysis shows that most of the differences are those one would expect to see.  The largest and most consistent differences among subgroups are those found in political ideology and political party.  Not surprisingly, Democrats generally adopt the more “liberal” position on most issues while Republicans take the more “conservative” position.  In many instances, these differences are quite large.  This is especially true on budget-related questions.  There are few differences among those groups in views of Virginia government, perhaps because the Commonwealth has a Republican governor, but there are very large differences in views of the national government.

We can also see some differences in education subgroups, with those most formally educated staking out more liberal stances.  There are significant differences in the expected direction between whites and African-Americans on views of the national government and approval of President Obama.

There are virtually no differences in views among different age groups and fewer and smaller gender gap differences than we might expect to see, though they are in the expected direction.  There are also relatively few regional differences in the poll.  Where there are regional differences, Northern Virginia tends to be slightly more liberal that the rest of the state. In summary, the largest differences between Virginians are based on political ideology and party, not on most demographic characteristics, with some exceptions, of course.

Interviewing for The Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Institute for Opinion and Policy Research at Roanoke College between November 29 and December 8, 2010.  The sample consisted of 601 residents of Virginia and was prepared by Survey Sampling Inc. of Fairfield, Conn. Questions answered by the entire sample of 601 likely voters are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4 percent. A copy of the questions and all frequencies may be found on the Roanoke College web site.

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -Fox Radio CBS Sports Radio Advertisement

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -Fox Radio CBS Sports Radio Advertisement

Related Articles