6 months after blackface scandal, more approve of Northam than disapprove

A new survey suggests Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s popular support is holding above water, six months into the fallout of a blackface scandal and amid a contentious gun control debate.

Despite pressure to resign from within his own party, an August poll conducted by Roanoke College’s Institute for Policy and Opinion Research and released Monday showed more respondents expressed approval for the Democratic governor than disapproval.

Thirty-seven percent of those polled said they generally approved of the way Northam is handling his job as governor, compared to 29% who said they disapproved. His approval rating rose five points over the same poll conducted in February, while his disapproval saw a 10 point decrease.

The institute interviewed 556 potential Virginia voters between Aug. 11 and Aug. 19. The poll has a margin of error of 4.2%.

A year ago, the same poll found 54% approved of how Northam was doing as governor, while only 18% disapproved.

Facing pressure from the left to tighten Virginia’s gun regulations, Northam convened a special legislative session in July after a city employee fatally shot 12 people inside a Virginia Beach municipal building before being shot and killed by police.

Republican lawmakers stood firm, abruptly adjourning and ruling out further movement on the issue until after statewide November elections.

Democrats have accused Republicans of punting, while Republicans have countered that the complex issue demands careful study and suggested Northam called the special session in part to deflect from a blackface scandal that almost drove him from office.

The poll also finds President Donald Trump’s approval among Virginians has fallen to a new low, with only 27% of respondents firmly standing with him — the lowest since Roanoke College began gauging support for the president in October 2017, and a marked drop from 38% on the same survey in February. A year ago, Trump had the approval 32% of Virginians, while 53% disapproved of how he is handling his job.

Economic issues, education, health care and gun control were among the most important topics Virginians reported ahead of November’s elections for the state senate and house of delegates.

Forty percent of respondents believed that stricter gun control laws are more likely to reduce crimes and suicides than adversely impact a citizen’s ability to defend themselves, compared to 23% who held it would more likely degrade self-defense.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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