The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Poll: Virginians approve of Northam, Amazon deal and casinos but take dim view of Trump

Votes approve of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and a deal to bring an Amazon headquarters to Crystal City, a new poll finds.
Votes approve of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and a deal to bring an Amazon headquarters to Crystal City, a new poll finds. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

RICHMOND — Most Virginia voters approve of Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and think the state is heading in the right direction, according to a new poll that also shows strong support for a deal that will bring part of Amazon’s East Coast headquarters to the state.

Eleven months into his four-year term, Northam enjoys support from 59 percent of voters, including 32 percent of Republicans, a poll from the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University found. The poll, released Wednesday morning, found that 24 percent of voters disapprove of the job Northam is doing.

President Trump got much lower marks, with 35 percent of voters saying they approve of the job he’s doing and 57 percent of voters saying they disapprove.

Coming just over a month before the General Assembly convenes Jan. 9, the CNU survey takes the public’s pulse on several issues likely to dominate the 46-day session, including gambling, redistricting, the Equal Rights Amendment and tax policy.

The poll found support for legalizing sports betting and casinos but also concern that those changes could contribute to gambling addiction. Voters very strongly support passage of the federal Equal Rights Amendment, as well as a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would take the once-in-a-decade task of redistricting away from politicians and give it to an independent commission.

Opinions were mixed on what the state should do with an anticipated windfall from changes to the federal tax law ushered in under Trump. The poll found slightly more support for a general tax cut favored by Republicans, as opposed to a tax credit for low- and moderate-income residents, as Northam has proposed.

Amazon splits prize between Crystal City and New York

Voters across the state strongly favor a deal, announced with great fanfare in November, to bring one of Amazon’s headquarters locations to Crystal City in Northern Virginia. That site will split up to 50,000 jobs with a second location in New York City. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Northam and Arlington County leaders agreed to give Amazon $819 million based on the company’s creation of 25,000 jobs with an average wage of $150,000. The incentives, which are subject to General Assembly approval, include $195 million in transportation improvements and a $1 billion Virginia Tech graduate campus in Alexandria focused on innovation.

Voters support that deal by more than a 2-to-1 margin, with 68 percent saying they approve and 30 percent saying they disapprove. Support is highest — 90 percent — in the state’s economically challenged Southside and southwestern regions. Seventy-two percent of voters in Northern Virginia, which will be home to Amazon, said they support the project.

On the topic of the ERA, 81 percent of voters support efforts to make Virginia the 38th and final state to ratify it, while 12 percent oppose it. Opponents note that the deadline for passage expired in 1982, but supporters believe they can overcome that hurdle.

“The legal standing of ratification may be murky, but Virginia voters are very clear that they want the 2019 General Assembly to pass the ERA,” said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center.

What obstacles are left for the ERA? Virginia’s legislature — and other hurdles.

By a wide margin, 71 percent to 19 percent, voters want to change the way Virginia draws its political maps. Currently, the legislature and governor decide the boundaries for legislative and congressional districts. A bipartisan group led by OneVirginia2021 last week proposed amending the state constitution to create an independent redistricting commission. Seventy-eight percent of voters said they supported that, and 17 percent were opposed.

The legislature’s longtime opposition to gambling has been softening, and the poll found voters support legalized sports betting and casinos.

This year, the General Assembly legalized a video horse-racing game that is similar to slot machines. There are no casinos in Virginia, but the Pamunkey Indian tribe has been pursuing the idea of building one, possibly near Richmond. It has yet to settle on a location.

Two legislators have bills for the coming session to legalize sports betting, responding to a Supreme Court ruling that struck down a law that had largely outlawed sports wagering outside Nevada.

Nonpartisan redistricting sought in Virginia as GOP continues defense of map

The poll found that 63 percent of Virginians say sports betting should be allowed, and 64 percent said the Pamunkey tribe should be allowed to open a casino. Fifty-eight percent said that if tribal casinos are permitted, others should be, as well. Support was highest (66 percent) in Northern Virginia and lowest (39 percent) in Southside and southwest. Voters said that if sports betting and casinos are allowed, tax revenue should fund education or the general fund before transportation, health care or other things.

“Virginia voters are ready for legalized sports betting and casinos, just like they were ready for the lottery 30 years ago,” said Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center. “And just as education funding was a justification to open the door to gambling then, directing gambling taxes to education seems to appeal to voters today.”

Voters expressed concern that expanded gambling could cause problems, such as contributing to gambling addiction (43 percent), promoting the wrong values (28 percent) and increasing crime (17 percent).

As a result of the Trump tax overhaul, the General Assembly will get to decide how to spend a windfall of up to $600 million. Republicans have called for an across-the-board tax cut to Virginians who pay income taxes, while Northam wants tax credits or rebates for certain low- and moderate-income residents, some of whom pay no state income taxes because they earn so little.

With windfall from changes to federal tax law, Northam wants rebates for low-income workers

Asked to weigh the two options independent of one another, 75 percent of voters said they support the across-the-board tax cut, while 62 percent said they support a tax credit.

But when asked to choose between the two, voters preferred the tax cut over the tax credit, 49 percent to 46 percent.

The poll was based on 841 interviews of registered Virginia voters, conducted on landlines and cellphones between Nov. 14 and Nov. 30. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.