Poll shows Va. voters divided on budget, unsure on governor candidates

WASHINGTON — Two weeks into Virginia’s short General Assembly session, a new Roanoke College poll reveals voters across the state appear divided on some issues, but in sync on another: They do not know much, if anything, about the gubernatorial candidates, with just over four months to go before the primaries. 

The biggest must-do this session is a budget fix for the projected two-year shortfall of more than $1 billion. The poll of 606 Virginia residents shows a division over how to address pay for teachers and other state workers.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has proposed a one-time bonus for teachers and workers who missed out on raises due to the budget shortfall. Other suggestions include restoring the raises or providing targeted raises to deal with pay problems for state police. The poll suggests about eight in 10 Virginians agree with McAuliffe that education spending should not be cut.

The restoration of voting rights for felons has been another big issue. Eight out of 10 Virginians agree non-violent felons who have completed all parts of a sentence and paid any fines should automatically have voting rights restored. About half say they should also have their gun rights restored.

Nine out of 10 agree with the governor in that it should be easier to reopen criminal cases when new or untested evidence is discovered.

Nearly two-thirds support raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour now and to $15 an hour by 2021.

McAuliffe vowed to veto any bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, an issue that divides Virginians nearly down the middle.

Such issues could take on a large role in the governor’s race, and have already shaped many actions in the General Assembly this month.

However, even with the primaries scheduled for June 13 and the general election coming up in November, few voters know anything about the perceived leading candidates for governor.

Only 13 percent knew enough about Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam to have an opinion on him, and only 24 percent had an opinion of Republican front-runner Ed Gillespie. Northam was elected lieutenant governor in 2013; Gillespie has also run for statewide office in the last few years, losing to U.S. Sen. Mark Warner in 2014.

Even fewer people were familiar with many of the other candidates.

The Nov. 7 statewide vote will also elect a lieutenant governor, an attorney general and all House of Delegates seats.

Overall, McAuliffe has a 52 percent approval rating, with 20 percent disapproving and 15 percent expressing a mixed opinion.

The poll, conducted last week, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

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