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In This Together: Public Opinion on Public Health, Social Equity and Upcoming Elections

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By The Center for Public Policy at VCU’s Wilder School
August 25, 2020

Multiple times each year, the Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Wilder School conducts the Wilder School Commonwealth Poll to better understand how Virginians view important issues that policymakers are facing. The July 2020 poll, a telephone survey of 838 adults living in Virginia, was conducted between July 11-19, 2020. It has an estimated margin of error of ±5.19 percentage points for all adults sampled, and ±6.40 percentage points for likely voters.

Findings related to public health, social equity and the upcoming presidential election are discussed below.

Public Health

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, the poll sought public opinion on efforts to reduce the spread of the virus. Primarily, we asked participants for their thoughts on if masks helped to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Six-in-ten of Virginians (60%) stated that they did believe wearing masks is helping a lot in slowing the spread of COVID, and another 21% said wearing masks helps a little. Only 18% said the practice does not help much or at all. Education and income were significant in the opinion, with 71% of those with a college degree and 70% of those with a family income of more than $100,000 per year saying masks help a lot. Minorities (with 66% vs. 56% of whites) and Democrats (with 76% vs. 44% of Republicans and 60% of Independents) were also more likely to say masks help a lot.

Participants were also asked if they approved or disapproved of how President Donald Trump and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam were handling the coronavirus crisis. Both saw a decrease in approval since this questions was previously asked in a spring 2020 poll, with 45% currently approving somewhat or strongly of how Trump is handling the response and 61% currently approving of how Northam is handling the response. In the spring poll, Trump saw a 50% approval rating and Northam saw a 76% approval rating. Men, Republicans and those with a high school diploma or less were more likely to approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis. Conversely, women, Democrats and those with a college education were more likely to approve of Northam’s response.

Social Equity and the Presidential Election

The poll also asked participants which issues were most important to them as they considered their vote in the upcoming presidential election. When asked about the issues listed below, those who identified as likely voters felt that issues listed below were one of the most important or very important:

  • The economy (82%)
  • Healthcare (70%)
  • The coronavirus (66%)
  • Police reform (56%)
  • Immigration (55%)
  • Systemic racism (54%)

The economy had a similar level of importance to all demographic groups. Women, Democrats and minorities were more likely to say healthcare and COVID-19 were more important. The coronavirus outbreak was a more important issue to respondents in NOVA and Tidewater, where cases have been increasing in recent weeks. Women, minorities and Democrats were more likely to say that systemic racism, police reform and immigration were more important to their vote.

Like many places around the country, Virginia is also debating the removal of confederate monuments. In Richmond, the state capital, many monuments have already been removed. Overall, Virginians’ support has shifted away from leaving confederate monuments where they are (which was more favored in a previous poll) to relocating them to museums. A plurality of Virginians (38%) think that the remaining confederate monuments should be moved to museums, an increase of 15% from the last time we asked the question in December 2017. The percentage of Virginians who think the monuments should be left in place has decreased 17% in the same time period, from 49% in 2017 to 32% currently. Only 14% of Virginians think the monuments should be removed all together.

We also asked respondents whether they thought Blacks in the United States are treated as fairly as Whites or whether changes need to be made for fair treatment. Almost six-in-ten Virginians (59%) said changes need to be made for fair treatment to occur, and 35% said Blacks are treated as fairly as Whites. 82% of those who said Blacks are treated fairly now said they would vote for Trump. Of those who said we need change, 71% said that they would vote for Biden. Respondents that thought Blacks are treated fairly were more likely to say that the monuments should be left in place, with 65%, while respondents that thought changes need to be made were more likely to say the monuments should be moved to museums, with 54%.

As the election draws closer, and as social equity and public health issues continue to be top priorities for policymakers, this and other polls can provide decisionmakers with the insights they need to make decisions that are reflective of the needs and opinions of those they serve.

Author: The Wilder School’s Center for Public Policy advances research and training that informs public policy and decisionmaking to improve our communities. Drawing on the wide-ranging expertise of Wilder School faculty, we provide services including leadership development and training, economic and policy impact analysis, survey insights and program evaluation to clients in governments, nonprofits, businesse, and the public, across Virginia and beyond. Twitter: @CPPatVCU

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