Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe was joined by members of the House and Senate as he announced a compromise on gun legislation. (Steve Helber/AP)

Virginia voters want hospitals to pay for Medicaid expansion, don’t want businesses to deny service to gay customers and do support background checks at gun shows, a new poll shows.

Christopher Newport University’s Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy surveyed voters on hot-button issues before the General Assembly. Results show Republicans, Democrats and presidential hopeful Donald Trump each know something about what Virginia voters want.

When it comes to statewide officials’ job performance, public opinion of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) backtracked to 45 percent from 51 percent around this time last year, but he has stayed within a nine-point range since taking office.

Attorney General Mark Herring (D) also slipped following his decision to stop Virginia’s practice of recognizing concealed carry handgun permits with 25 states that had weaker regulations. Voters gave him a 33 percent approval-27 percent disapproval rating in January, compared with a 39 percent approval-19 percent disapproval rating in September.

In December, Virginia's attorney general announced it would no longer honor concealed-carry handgun permits from 25 states. Now thanks to a bipartisan deal with the governor, that declaration won't got into effect on Feb. 1st. Here’s why. (Ashleigh Joplin/The Washington Post)

Gun laws

A slim majority of voters say they support Herring’s move, but voters are deeply divided along partisan lines with Democrats and liberals strongly supporting it, and Republicans and conservatives strongly opposing it.

Areas with the most Democratic voters — Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads — support the decision as do voters likely to vote for Democrats, including women. On the question of making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks, 88 percent of voters are supportive, reflecting support for part of a deal McAuliffe and GOP lawmakers recently struck. The agreement includes voluntary checks at gun shows.

“These data suggest that Democrats who campaign on gun control in Virginia will be dependent upon key elements of their electorate showing up to vote: women, minorities, independents, and voters under 45,” said Quentin Kidd, a CNU political scientist and pollster. “These voters explain why Democrats are more eager to talk about gun control.”

Loyalty Pledge

Poll results suggest Trump was justified in saying independent voters would shy away from voting for the Republican nominee in the March 1 primary if they had to sign a loyalty pledge affirming they were Republicans. The state party ultimately reversed its earlier decision to impose the pledge.

By a 2-1 margin, self-identified Republicans, independents who lean Republican and independents opposed the pledge. Nearly three-quarters of independents were opposed and almost two-thirds of Republican voters were strongly opposed. Sizable chunks of independent and moderate voters went as far as to say they were less likely to vote in the primary because of the pledge, which the party calls a “statement of affiliation.”


Support for the general notion of expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act stands at 61 percent with support among a majority of African Americans, ideological liberals and Democrats.

More than half of Republicans and conservatives oppose extending coverage to 400,000 uninsured Virginians. Their argument that the federal government will not pay its entire share in the future resonates with 62 percent of voters, and especially younger voters and women.

Virginia hospitals recently offered to pay for the state’s share of expanding Medicaid with a 3 percent tax on revenue — an idea voters generally like, according to the poll.

Gay rights

More than half of Virginia voters solidly oppose a proposal to allow businesses to refuse services to gay and lesbian couples based upon religious beliefs, but ideological conservatives and Republicans support the measure.

“The Virginia electorate has moved dramatically on same sex marriage since voters banned it by approving the Virginia Marriage Amendment in 2006,” Kidd said. “Today, a fairly decisive majority say businesses should not be able to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples even if homosexuality violates their religious beliefs.”

The poll surveyed 804 registered Virginia voters from Jan 18 to 29. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.8 percentage points.