Approval ratings for top 3 Va. officials tumble but will it matter in November?

More than two months after a blackface photo in Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook came to light, the controversy is continuing to dent his approval ratings, according to a new survey.

The Democratic governor’s popularity among registered voters has tumbled 19 points and now sits at 40%, according to the survey by the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. That’s now lower than the 44% of Virginia voters who approve of the job President Donald Trump is doing.

Meanwhile, the percentage of Virginia voters who disapprove of Northam has more than doubled — increasing from 24% to 49% since December.

Even so, a slight majority of voters — 52% — say Northam should stay in office. And nearly a quarter of Virginia voters said they weren’t even aware of the highly publicized scandal.

Elsewhere in Virginia leadership, disapproval of Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who has been accused by two women of sexual assault before his time in office, jumped from 13% to 39%. But only 42% of voters said the No. 2 official should step down — compared to 45% who said he should stay.

Disapproval of Attorney General Mark Herring, who has admitted wearing blackface at a party in the 1980s, increased from 17% to 28%, according to the survey. Among voters who were aware of his admission, 64% said he should stay in office compared to 28% who said he should resign.

“Probably because of the nature of the allegations against him, Justin Fairfax appears more damaged than Mark Herring,” said Dr. Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center. Fairfax has said the sexual encounters with both women were “100% consensual,” has said he will fully cooperate with law enforcement investigations and has promised to release polygraph results showing he is telling the truth.

How will the fact that Virginia’s top Democratic officials are mired in scandal affect Democrats’ chances of winning control of the Virginia State Senate and House of Delegates this fall?

Republicans hold razor-thin majorities in both chambers, and Democrats had been hopeful of seizing control after strong showings statewide elections in 2017 and enthusiastic turnout in the 2018 midterm elections.

The pollsters said the scandals involving Northam, Fairfax and Herring may have only a limited impact on this fall’s elections.

For one thing, 23% of voters said they were unaware of the Northam blackface controversy — the most publicized of the missteps. And Democrats continue to hold a slight edge on what’s known as the generic ballot test for control of the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates — 43% to 39%

The survey indicates Democrats hold several advantages in public perception.

When asked which party cares more about the middle class, the working class, the poor, African Americans, women, men and children, voters chose Democrats in every category but one, according to the survey. Voters said Republicans care more about men.

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