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Virginians like Youngkin more than his policies, poll finds

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) at an event promoting his proposed tax cuts in Richmond on Monday. (Shaban Athuman/AP)
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RICHMOND — Half of Virginia voters say Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) is doing a good job, but they take a dimmer view of the Republican’s legislative agenda and apparent presidential ambitions, according to a new poll from the Wason Center at Christopher Newport University.

The survey, conducted this month as the political newcomer crossed the one-year mark in office, found that 50 percent of registered voters approve of his performance and 36 percent disapprove.

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Their views on his policy goals are mixed. Voters strongly support at least part of Youngkin’s plan for transgender K-12 students, for example, but they are deeply opposed to his efforts to tighten restrictions on abortion, loosen environmental regulations and cut corporate income taxes.

“It’s an interesting bit of a paradox,” Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo, the Wason Center’s research director, said in an interview. “I would say the governor is a likable guy in the sense that people seem to like his broader personality and style. And they also may not be particularly attuned to his specific policy positions.”

Youngkin’s approval rating — essentially unchanged from an October Wason poll — far exceeds President Biden’s numbers in Virginia, with 38 percent saying they approve of the president and 57 percent disapproving. Similarly, more voters say Virginia is headed in the right direction (45 percent) than the nation as a whole (19 percent).

But Virginians strongly prefer that Youngkin not run for president in 2024. Fifty-nine percent oppose a bid and 29 percent are in favor.

Youngkin, who vaulted from obscurity to top-contender lists the moment he flipped blue-trending Virginia red, has been coy about any presidential ambitions but has sent clear signals that he is considering a bid. He raised his national profile last year with cross-country travel, formed two national fundraising entities and hosted a two-day conference outside of Charlottesville for potential donors to ponder his political future.

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Apart from Youngkin, the poll takes voters’ temperature on a range of issues, some of them before the General Assembly, which is approaching the midpoint of its 46-day session.

A plurality of voters (48 percent) support lowering the individual income tax rate as Youngkin has proposed. But a strong majority (57 percent) oppose his plan to cut the corporate income tax rate.

A hefty majority of voters also line up with Youngkin on a matter of transgender school policy, part of a broader plan he rolled out in September. Fifty-nine percent support requiring parental approval for K-12 students to use a pronoun at school that differs from the sex on their birth certificate.

At the same time, voters opposed a number of Youngkin’s other goals. The governor has proposed banning abortion after 15 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest and when the pregnant person’s life is at risk.

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That plan is unlikely to emerge from the General Assembly; the Democratic-controlled Senate defeated their version in committee Thursday and Republican House Speaker Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), noting its likely defeat in the Senate, has indicated that he will not assign the House companion bill to committee.

The polls suggest that most voters would be pleased with that outcome. Forty-three percent of Virginians would prefer to stay with the state’s current abortion laws, which allow the procedure in the first and second trimesters, until about 26 weeks, and in the third only if the pregnant person’s life or health is at serious risk, as certified by three doctors.

Twenty-nine percent of voters would prefer the laws to be more permissive and 23 percent would like them to be more restrictive.

Voters also support staying in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, with 66 percent on board with the interstate carbon cap-and-trade compact. Youngkin has sought to pull the state out. Sixty-two percent support the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which Youngkin’s Democratic predecessor signed into law in 2020 and made Virginia the first Southern state with the goal of going carbon-free by 2045.

Virginians also seem to have a higher opinion of local K-12 education than Youngkin, who campaigned heavily on the notion that liberal educators were trying to “indoctrinate” students. In office, he has continued to hammer the theme that Virginia students are falling behind their peers in other states.

The poll finds that most Virginia voters have a relatively high opinion of the state’s schools, which consistently rank among the nation’s best. Forty-one percent give Virginia schools an A or B grade, 28 percent a C, 13 percent a D and 9 percent an F. Asked about the nation’s schools overall, 13 percent gave an A or B, 39 percent a C, 20 percent a D and 15 percent an F.

Virginians strongly support allowing the retail sale of recreational marijuana, with 60 percent in favor and 34 percent opposed. In 2021, Virginia became the first state in the South to allow adults to possess and grow small amounts of pot. The state had yet to establish a framework for retail sales, an issue that Youngkin has tried to sidestep.

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“The Governor has largely shied away from answering questions about his stance, while both Democrats and Republicans have proposed a range of bills on the subject,” Bromley-Trujillo said in a written statement. “It remains to be seen whether lawmakers can actually come to an agreement, however.”

The poll was based on 1,038 interviews of Virginia-registered voters conducted between Jan. 13 and Jan. 23. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

Scott Clement contributed to this report.