The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research (IPOR) at Roanoke College interviewed adult residents of Virginia in a survey addressing topics such as the recent executive actions by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, feelings about personal freedom versus health and safety, COVID vaccination, and general feelings about current and former elected officials.
Approvals, Favorable/Unfavorable, Direction of VA, Country
Almost two months into his term as governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin registers a 50% approval rating while 41% disapprove. While the percentage of Virginians that disapprove of the way he is handling his job is larger than disapprovals for former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (38% disapprove in August 2021), Youngkin’s approval rating hovers near Northam’s approval ratings for 2021 (52% in August, 47% in May, 49% in February).
Approval of President Joe Biden’s job is at a low, 41% with 53% disapproving, since he took office, according to the Roanoke College Poll. Disapproval of the way the U.S. Congress is handling its job remains high, at 72% with only 21% approving. That for the Virginia General Assembly is 44% approving, with 37% disapproving, similar to results when last asked in August of 2021.
About 46% of Virginians have a favorable view of Gov. Youngkin, with 42% having an unfavorable view. Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears holds a 30% favorable and 33% unfavorable rating, with 35% of respondents not knowing enough about her to have formed an opinion. Attorney General Jason Miyares has a 24% favorable and 34% unfavorable rating, with 41% of respondents not being able to form an opinion at the current time.
Former Gov. Northam holds a 41%/44% favorable/unfavorable rating (down from 54%/39% in September) while President Biden’s ratings are 43% favorable and 52% unfavorable. This marks the first time in the Roanoke College Poll where a majority of Virginians have an unfavorable view of Biden. Former President Donald Trump has a 37% favorable and 56% unfavorable rating among Virginians, virtually unchanged since October.
When asked about the country, 29% of Virginians say that things are going in the right direction while 67% say that things have gotten off on the wrong track, which compares similarly to Virginians’ viewpoint in November. Regarding the Commonwealth itself, Virginians are split, with 47% saying things are going in the right direction and 47% saying things have gotten off on the wrong track.
Masks, Vaccination Requirements, Personal Freedom, Executive Orders
On the day of his inauguration, Gov. Youngkin’s second executive order aimed to place the decision about mask-wearing in schools in the hands of students’ parents. Roanoke College Poll found that 46% of Virginians strongly or somewhat agree with this executive order while 52% disagree. Approval is high (82%) among Republicans but lower among Democrats (21%) and Independents (41%).
We asked respondents whether school districts or the Commonwealth should be setting mask mandates. About 56% of Virginians say that “local school districts should set mask requirements for themselves” as opposed to 37% saying “Gov. Youngkin and the state government should set mask requirements for local school districts.” Preference for local school districts setting mandates was among the lowest partisan divide in our poll, with 45% of Republicans and 61% of Democrats preferring school district choice.
The governor’s second executive directive, also issued on Inauguration Day, removed the vaccine mandate for all state employees. Virginians were divided on the issue, with 51% strongly or somewhat agreeing and 46% strongly or somewhat disagreeing. Among Republicans, 84% had some degree of agreement, while just 23% of Democrats did. Overall, just over half (51%) of Virginians approve of Gov. Youngkin’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic while 44% disapprove.
We asked respondents to place themselves on a scale with personal freedom on one side and health and safety on the other. About 38% of respondents expressed some degree of balance toward personal freedom while 37% balanced more toward health and safety. Roughly 22% placed themselves “solidly in the middle” between the two sides. The balance toward personal freedom is higher (62%) among Republicans when compared to Democrats (26%) and Independents (32%).
The percentage of adult Virginians fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or awaiting their second dose remains near 77%, while just 3% say they plan to start vaccination soon, according to The Roanoke College Poll. These numbers remain unchanged from similar results in September (78% fully or partially vaccinated and 2% planning to start soon) when both polls’ margins of error are considered. The percentage of adults who state they do not plan to get vaccinated (18% now, 13% in November, and 11% in September) increased slightly.
Among those adults fully vaccinated, 61% have received a third dose or booster shot (an increase from 24% in November), another 23% plan to get another shot soon, and 16% do not plan to receive another dose (down from 22% in November).
Results regarding being fully vaccinated continue to differ greatly when political party is considered. Democrats report full or partial vaccination at 89% with just 5% not planning to get a shot; for Republicans, those numbers are 67% and 28%. Regarding booster shots, 89% of Democrats have or plan to get an additional dose of vaccine with only 10% not planning to do so. Republicans have a slightly lower rate of booster dose interest (82%) and slightly increased rate of reporting no plans to receive an additional shot (18%). Unlike in November (interest 67%, no plans 37%), vaccinated Republicans now show similar interest to vaccinated Democrats in booster shots.
“It is not a surprise at all that many issues and opinions across the Commonwealth continue to be affected by partisanship and that mask wearing, vaccination, and other topics divide along party lines,” says Dr. David Taylor, director of IPOR. “Opinions regarding elected officials are also not a surprise, as a drop in President Biden’s job approval and favorability rating mirrors ratings at the national level, and relative newcomers to statewide prominence, Lt. Gov. Sears and Attorney General Miyares, have yet to reach a good proportion of Virginians.”
“There is some worry among Virginians about the direction of the Commonwealth, as fewer residents feel that our state is heading in the right direction,” Taylor said. “While Youngkin maintains a 50% job approval rating and 51% approval of his pandemic handling, a slight majority disapproves of his executive actions that removed mask mandates in schools. By an almost 20-point margin, Virginians believe the authority to set mask mandates should be left with the school districts themselves and not with the Governor’s office or state. In most cases, opinions of Virginians are more extreme when combined with a respondent’s political party, but even almost a majority (45%) of Republicans favor local school districts setting policy.”
“The story about vaccination for COVID-19 remains mostly unchanged since we last reported in November,” Taylor said. “In the area of good news for the Virginia Department of Health and efforts to reach Virginians about booster shots, about 61% of fully vaccinated residents have already gotten or have scheduled their additional dose, while another 23% are planning to do so, results that are relatively similar even when controlling for political party.”
“Personal freedom versus health and safety is something that we all think about more these days, and Virginians appear almost equally split in terms of those who prefer personal freedom and those who prefer health and safety, with a healthy 22% of respondents saying they’re ‘solidly in the middle.’”
Interviewing for The Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, between Feb. 7 and Feb. 16, 2022. A total of 605 residents of Virginia, 18 or older, were included in this study.