Polls: Many Virginians Aren't Happy With Ralph Northam, But Fewer Want Him To Resign

In two new polls, a third or fewer of Virginia Democrats want the governor to step down.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) gets negative ratings from his constituents in the wake of his blackface scandal, two new surveys of the state find ― but a plurality of his constituents say they don’t believe he should resign.

Northam has a net -5 approval rating (39 percent approve, 44 percent disapprove) among Virginia voters, a new Quinnipiac University survey finds, down from +24 (49 percent approve, 25 percent disapprove) last June.

“The good news for Gov. Ralph Northam is that Virginia voters have mixed feelings about him – not terrible but hardly reassuring in the wake of the brouhaha over his alleged use of blackface when he was a medical student more than three decades ago,” Peter Brown, the assistant director of the poll said in a statement.

The governor faced calls to resign earlier this year after the publication of a photo from his medical school yearbook, which showed a person in blackface next to a person dressed as a member of the KKK. Northam initially apologized, indicating that he was pictured in the photo, then reversed course and denied he was in the picture. He later admitted he had worn blackface on a different occasion and vowed to embark on a “listening tour” about racial issues.

Nearly three-quarters of voters in the Quinnipiac polls, including 62 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of Democrats, say blackface is racist. A 59 percent majority, including just over half of Republicans and about two-thirds of Democrats, say wearing blackface was also unacceptable in the 1980s when Northam attended medical school. And only slightly under a third say Northam is the right person to work to heal racial divisions in Virginia, while 54 percent say he is not. 

But voters also say, 48 percent to 42 percent, that Northam should not resign. Sixty percent of Republican voters and 46 percent of white voters in the state want Northam to resign, the poll finds, compared to just a third of Democratic voters and 31 percent of black voters. Just 21 percent of voters consider Northam to be a racist, with 62 percent saying he is not.

Another survey released this week finds similar results on voter approval. In a new University of Virginia Center for Politics/Ipsos poll, just 17 percent of Virginia adults approve of Northam’s job performance, with 34 percent disapproving and the rest neutral.

But after being reminded of the details of the scandal surrounding him, just 31 percent said he should resign, while 43 percent said he should stay in office, with the rest unsure or refusing to answer. Democrats opposed Northam’s resignation, 46 percent to 20 percent, while Republicans were about evenly split.

Virginia’s lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, who has been accused of rape and sexual assault by two women, fares worse in the polls. In the Quinnipiac survey, voters are evenly split on whether Fairfax should resign, although other questions find that about half the electorate has no opinion on him or the allegations he’s facing. In the UVA/Ipsos poll, Virginians say by a 10-point margin, 35 percent to 25 percent, that Fairfax should resign.

Fewer are calling for the resignation of state attorney general Mark Herring, who also admitted to dressing in blackface. In the Quinnipiac poll, voters say 54 percent to 22 percent that he should not resign. In the UVA/Ipsos poll, Virginians say the same, 56 percent to 19 percent.

A national HuffPost/YouGov survey conducted in the days immediately after the scandal broke found that that 27 percent of Americans thought the blackface photo in Northam’s yearbook should disqualify him from serving as governor, with 25 percent calling it relevant but not disqualifying, 26 percent saying it was irrelevant, and the rest unsure. A 42 percent plurality of Democrats across the country said they considered the photo disqualifying.

Quinnipiac surveyed 1,150 Virginia voters between Feb. 14-18, using live phone interviews to reach both landlines and cell phones. The UVA Center for Politics/Ipsos KnowledgePanel poll surveyed 636 Virginia adults online between Feb. 15-19.