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Poll finds Youngkin underwater with Virginia voters, who veer to his left on major issues

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin at a bill-signing ceremony in Richmond on Feb. 16. (Shawn Thew/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
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RICHMOND — Virginia voters disagree with Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) on several major issues and are slightly more negative than positive about his performance after a month in office, according to a poll from the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University.

Forty-one percent of voters say they approve of the job Youngkin is doing compared with 43 percent who disapprove, with 16 percent saying they don’t know how they feel, the poll found. While the numbers are heavily partisan — Republicans are almost universally positive and Democrats sharply negative — Youngkin’s overall approval “is certainly lower than those of recent governors in Wason Center polling early in their term,” center academic director Quentin Kidd said in a news release.

Macaulay Porter, a spokeswoman for Youngkin, said polling has been consistently off the mark. “Governor Youngkin’s initiatives have received bipartisan support, and he looks forward to delivering on more promises that he made during the campaign,” Porter said.

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Youngkin has generated strong feelings since taking office Jan. 15, issuing a slew of executive orders on his first day that stoked divisive issues such as eliminating mask mandates in schools and banning the teaching of critical race theory. He recently won quick passage of a law that lets parents opt their children out of mask mandates by March 1, but he is wrestling with a Democrat-controlled state Senate to advance an agenda of tax cuts through the General Assembly.

The CNU poll finds that Virginia voters seem to be to the left of Youngkin on many of his most high-profile issues, including taxes.

With the state running huge budget surpluses, 59 percent of voters want to use the money on “underfunded government services, such as education, public safety and social services,” while 38 percent favor tax cuts or rebates, according to the poll.

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At least one tax cut is popular, though, with nearly three-quarters of voters favoring some form of relief from the state’s 2.5 percent tax on groceries — 47 percent preferring a total repeal of the tax, as Youngkin is seeking, and 25 percent favoring a grocery tax credit for low-income Virginians.

The poll finds that Virginia voters are not on board with Youngkin’s crusade against critical race theory, which is an academic framework for studying systemic racism that is not on the state’s K-12 curriculum. Slightly more than a third of voters (35 percent) support a ban on teaching critical race theory in public schools, while 57 percent oppose such a ban.

Similarly, nearly two-thirds of voters (63 percent) support teaching “how racism continues to impact American society” while one-third (33 percent) oppose such teaching, according to the poll.

The poll’s findings also undercut the law that makes masks optional in public schools, finding that 56 percent of voters think a decision about masks in schools should be based on health data and experts, while 41 percent think it should be left up to parents.

A majority of voters also support requiring coronavirus vaccination for people in jail or prison, first responders, members of the military, teachers and medical providers, the poll found. Respondents were almost evenly split on whether to require vaccination for college students or state government employees, with 50 percent saying yes and 48 percent no for both.

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There was less support for requiring coronavirus vaccination in public schools. Voters were evenly split (49-49) on whether to require shots for high school students, but slightly opposed to requiring vaccination for middle-schoolers (51 percent no, 47 percent yes) and very opposed to requiring them for children in elementary school (55 percent no, 42 percent yes).

Virginia voters also favor remaining in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate compact aimed at reducing carbon pollution that Youngkin has vowed to exit because he thinks it drives up consumer energy bills. More than two-thirds of voters (67 percent) say they favor remaining in the initiative, with 26 percent calling for an exit.

Despite the polarized positions, the poll finds that 45 percent of voters continue to think the state is headed in the right direction, versus 41 percent who say it’s headed in the wrong direction — which is consistent with CNU’s polling over the past four years, according to the center’s analysis of its findings.

Youngkin’s relatively low approval is striking because Virginia governors have consistently scored more favorable than unfavorable in Wason/CNU polls going back two terms. The only exception: a few weeks after the 2019 blackface scandal that nearly caused former governor Ralph Northam (D) to resign. Northam sank to 40 percent approval/49 percent disapproval that April but quickly rebounded, registering above 50 percent approval for the rest of his term, according to Wason/CNU results.

Democrats in the General Assembly pounced on the results Monday to charge that Youngkin is out of touch with Virginia voters, who elected him last fall by a slim two-point margin.

“The honeymoon is over,” Del. Don L. Scott Jr. (D-Portsmouth) said Monday in a blistering speech on the House floor that referred to Youngkin’s negative approval rating in the poll. “It’s hard to be this bad, this fast. … He’s too extreme, too divisive.”

But Republicans countered that the same poll also shows Virginia voters are sharply negative on Democratic President Biden, with only 40 percent approving of his job performance and 53 percent disapproving. That’s down from 57 percent favorable and 36 percent negative a year ago.

“I will appear with Glenn Youngkin anywhere if they want to appear with Biden anywhere, okay?” said House Majority Leader Terry G. Kilgore (R-Scott), adding that he felt the poll was “very left-leaning.”

The governor is “very popular in my area,” Kilgore said. “I don’t see any of his stances being out of the mainstream, as [Democrats] are talking. If they want to fight for four years, fine, but it looks like we could all come together and work together to move the commonwealth forward.”

The CNU/Wason poll was conducted from Jan. 26 to Feb. 15 and is based on interviews with 701 Virginia registered voters.