RICHMOND – A 63% majority of Virginia voters support teaching how racism continues to impact American society and oppose a ban of critical race theory from public school curriculums, according to a new poll released Monday by the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who had campaigned heavily on this issue, on his first day in office by executive decree prohibited this subject from becoming part of the state’s K-12 curriculum – a move that only 35% of those polled supported. By the time Youngkin signed the order, critical race theory was not being taught at Virginia schools.
The poll also found that 58% of voters still support vaccine mandates for first responders, teachers (57%) and medical providers (61%), while opposing mandates for elementary students (55%) and middle school students (51%).
On masks in schools, voters say health data should be used to determine mask requirements (56%) versus leaving the decision to parents (41%) – another issue that had been a staple during Youngkin’s campaign that he made good on last week by signing legislation ending mask mandates in all of Virginia’s public schools.
A little over a month since his inauguration, Youngkin’s job approval is under water, with 41% saying they approve of the job the governor is doing and 43% indicating disapproval, while 16% say they don’t know. In regards to the state of the commonwealth, 45% say Virginia is headed in the right direction, while 41% say the wrong direction, mostly along partisan lines.
“In this highly polarized environment, we see partisans running to their corners on how they view the direction of the commonwealth and the job of the governor,” said Quentin Kidd, Academic Director of the Wason Center. “Youngkin’s approval numbers are certainly lower than those of recent governors in Wason Center polling early in their term.”
As the General Assembly is currently working to amend former Gov. Ralph Northam’s two-year budget for fiscal 2022-24 totalling $158 billion, 59% of Virginia voters prefer spending the state’s $2.6 billion budget surplus on education, public safety and social services, rather than providing tax cuts or tax rebates (38%).
A strong economic recovery and federal aid during the pandemic allowed the administration to set aside $1.7 billion to the commonwealth’s revenue reserves, including a $564 million voluntary deposit, bringing the total reserves amount to more than $3.8 billion, or 16.8% of state revenues, and more than double the 8% that the administration set as a goal four years ago.
Voters overwhelmingly support cutting the 2.5% grocery tax – which had been proposed by both the Northam and Youngkin administrations in some form – either by a total repeal (47%) or by giving low-income Virginians a tax credit (25%), while 24% of voters say keep the tax in place.
Many voters also oppose a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can have an abortion (49% to 44%), while a majority are against requiring an ultrasound (57% to 36%) and a ban on abortions at 6 weeks (58% to 33%). Earlier this month, a Democrat-controlled Virginia Senate committee defeated a bill that would have prohibited abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in most circumstances. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield County, failed on a party-line vote of 6-9.
Most of the polled voters say climate change is already affecting Virginia and should be a top priority (34%) or a medium priority (32%) for the governor and General Assembly, while 22% say it should be a low priority and 11% say not a priority at all. Voters support the state participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) carbon cap-and-trade program (67% to 26%) and the Virginia Clean Economy Act (67% to 28%), a law requiring Virginia electric utilities to generate 100% of their power from renewable sources by 2050.
In January, Youngkin signed an executive order aimed at starting the process to end Virginia’s involvement in the RGGI, but some legal scholars say it won’t be that simple since the state’s participation was established legislatively and would require legislative action to rescind it.
The program, in which 11 states are a part, aims to cut carbon emissions by forcing power generators to meet an emissions cap or buy additional allowances through auctions administered by the program. The money generated by the auctions goes toward improving energy efficiency for low-income Virginians and helping fund coastal flood mitigation projects.
“It’s not surprising to see many Virginia voters say climate change should be a priority for their state government,” said Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo, research director of the Wason Center. “Sea level rise, harm to ecosystems and extreme weather largely accord with scientists’ expectations of climate effects here.”
The results of the Wason poll are based on interviews of 701 Virginia registered voters between Jan. 26 and Feb. 15. The margin of error is 4.2%. The full report can be viewed here.