© 2024
Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Poll: 42% of Virginia voters want the governor to have less power over local schools

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin addresses the crowd during an early voting rally Thursday Sep. 21, 2023, in Petersburg, Va.
Steve Helber
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin addresses the crowd during an early voting rally Thursday Sep. 21, 2023, in Petersburg, Va.

A plurality of Virginia voters wants Governor Glenn Younkin to have less power over local school decisions. That’s according to new polling from the University of Mary Washington.

The new numbers come as book bans, fights at school board meetings, and other headline-making incidents in the state’s education sphere have put a renewed light on the Commonwealth’s 2023 legislative elections. With all 140 House and Senate seats up for grabs, Youngkin is hoping the “parents matter” message that made him the first Republican to win a state-wide election in the Commonwealth in about a decade will resonate once more.

But the new poll suggests Virginia’s parents might be turning away from the message. 42% of 1,000 surveyed Virginians want the governor to have “less power” in schools, while 19% want his authority to stay as is and 21% said they wanted more.

Professor Stephen Farnsworth, the director of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies, which conducted the survey, said the numbers could be a bad sign for Youngkin.

“It’s a suggestion that the governor’s strategy of weighing in aggressively on education is not particularly helpful to swing voters,” said Farnsworth.

The new poll says education is a major issue as Virginians head into polling booths. About two-thirds of both Democratic and Republican voters responded as such, but at the same time, the same percentage of all voters gave their schools a grade of C or higher.

“It really does speak to the fact, the loud voices you hear at school board meetings talking about banning books and otherwise changing the way schools do business, they do not represent the majority of Virginians,” Farnsworth said.

Another issue motivating voters according to the poll is abortion, with 53% of voters saying the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will be a major factor in their decision.

In Virginia, Republicans have offered a15 week ban, or avoided the subject. Democrats, meanwhile, have argued Republicans would ban the practice altogether. The state currently mostly limits abortion access to 24 weeks; however, exceptions exist for third trimester abortions with doctor approval and the mother’s life on the line.

About 57% of respondents said abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 8% want a total ban.

With 45 days of early voting, Virginia has the nation’s longest window for voters to participate in their elections, and according to numbers from the Virginia Public Access Project, they’re using it.

About 60,000 Virginians have cast their ballot early so far, about 12,000 fewer at this point than during the 2022 election when the state’s congressional districts were on the ballot.

Many of the votes cast since early voting began have been in what VPAP rates as Republican-leaning or competitive seats. Mail-in ballots, which made up about a third of the 2022 election’s early votes, are on track to make the same impact this year.

Farnsworth said Youngkin’s push for early voting by the GOP, aided by his Spirit of Virginia tour bus, could pay off, but it’ll be an uphill battle. “Republicans have engaged in something close to unilateral disarmament when Donald Trump and others have discouraged early voting,” Farnsworth noted.

All of this is happening in the shadow of the 2024 Republican Presidential primary, where Trump leads over a sea of competitors despite criminal indictments in four states. Reporting has suggested some high dollar GOP donors are looking at Virginia’s election as a canary in the coal mine for Youngkin; if his message helps gain control of both legislative branches, many are speculating he’ll step into the presidential race.

Farnsworth asked voters about a hypothetical matchup between President Joe Biden and Youngkin, and the governor may not like the results: Youngkin received 34% support in the survey, as compared to 37% for Biden.

In a matchup between Trump and Biden, the two are tied.

“Virginia looks a lot like America as a whole in this survey,” said Farnsworth. “President Biden is relatively unpopular now in Virginia and nationally, and national surveys also suggest 2024 is shaping up to be an extremely competitive election cycle.”

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.