Virginia’s Youngkin Already ‘Underwater’

The Commonwealth's undemocratic political system is, shockingly, unrepresentative of the will of its people.

Less than six weeks into his term as governor, Republican Glenn Youngkin has more Virginia voters who approve than disapprove. WaPo:

Virginia voters disagree with Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) on several major issues and are slightly more negative than positive about his performance after a month in office, according to a poll from the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University.

Forty-one percent of voters say they approve of the job Youngkin is doing compared with 43 percent who disapprove, with 16 percent saying they don’t know how they feel, the poll found. While the numbers are heavily partisan — Republicans are almost universally positive and Democrats sharply negative — Youngkin’s overall approval “is certainly lower than those of recent governors in Wason Center polling early in their term,” center academic director Quentin Kidd said in a news release.

In fairness, 41 percent approval and 43 percent disapproval in a poll with a margin of error of 4.2 percent amounts to a tie. And I don’t truly consider a politician “underwater” unless their disapproval is above 50 percent. Still, he’s aggressively pursuing conservative policies more closely aligned with Florida or Alabama than with a state that has voted Democratic the last four elections.

The CNU poll finds that Virginia voters seem to be to the left of Youngkin on many of his most high-profile issues, including taxes.

With the state running huge budget surpluses, 59 percent of voters want to use the money on “underfunded government services, such as education, public safety and social services,” while 38 percent favor tax cuts or rebates, according to the poll.

At least one tax cut is popular, though, with nearly three-quarters of voters favoring some form of relief from the state’s 2.5 percent tax on groceries — 47 percent preferring a total repeal of the tax, as Youngkin is seeking, and 25 percent favoring a grocery tax credit for low-income Virginians.

The poll finds that Virginia voters are not on board with Youngkin’s crusade against critical race theory, which is an academic framework for studying systemic racism that is not on the state’s K-12 curriculum. Slightly more than a third of voters (35 percent) support a ban on teaching critical race theory in public schools, while 57 percent oppose such a ban.

Similarly, nearly two-thirds of voters (63 percent) support teaching “how racism continues to impact American society” while one-third (33 percent) oppose such teaching, according to the poll.

The poll’s findings also undercut the law that makes masks optional in public schools, finding that 56 percent of voters think a decision about masks in schools should be based on health data and experts, while 41 percent think it should be left up to parents.

A majority of voters also support requiring coronavirus vaccination for people in jail or prison, first responders, members of the military, teachers and medical providers, the poll found. Respondents were almost evenly split on whether to require vaccination for college students or state government employees, with 50 percent saying yes and 48 percent no for both.

There was less support for requiring coronavirus vaccination in public schools. Voters were evenly split (49-49) on whether to require shots for high school students, but slightly opposed to requiring vaccination for middle-schoolers (51 percent no, 47 percent yes) and very opposed to requiring them for children in elementary school (55 percent no, 42 percent yes).

Virginia voters also favor remaining in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate compact aimed at reducing carbon pollution that Youngkin has vowed to exit because he thinks it drives up consumer energy bills. More than two-thirds of voters (67 percent) say they favor remaining in the initiative, with 26 percent calling for an exit.

I’d be surprised if most Virginians had given more than a moment’s thought to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, much less had a strong opinion about it. But otherwise Youngkin is running the Republican playbook in a Democratic state.

Which brings me to the reason I’m writing about local politics at a site where relatively few readers live, as I do, in Virginia: the strangeness of our politics.

As I’ve noted more than once, the Commonwealth elects its statewide offices (governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general—all of whom run independently of one another) in off-off years—odd-numbered years that fall between Presidential and Congressional cycles.* Not only does this just about guarantee low turnout but it has the odd impact of almost always going in the opposite direction of the state’s vote in the Presidential election the year prior. Thus, a state that voted Republican in every Presidential election from 1976 through 2004 elected five Democrats as governor during that span. And, despite having voted Democrat for President in the last four elections, it has elected two Republican governors in the year after.

In a high-turnout election, Virginians would almost certainly have elected the Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, rather than Youngkin. But Republicans have a natural advantage in low-turnout contests because their key constituency groups, the elderly and wealthy, are more likely to vote. And, ten months into President Biden’s term, Democrats are simply less likely to be energized, both because they’re not angry at a sitting Republican President and because they’re deflated that Biden wasn’t able to enact all of the policies he ran on.

Compound that with the fact that Virginia is the sole remaining state where a governor can’t serve a serve a second, consecutive term, and our representative democracy is neither representative nor democratic. Youngkin really has no incentive to moderate his policy positions to please the majority of Virginia residents. His next step is either to retire from politics and go back into business or, most likely, a run for President. In either case, pleasing Republican primary voters is where his incentives lie.

Indeed, the main constraint on Youngkin is the other undemocratic weirdness of Virginia’s system: the fact that the legislature is elected in a different off-off year election than the executive. Democrats still have a narrow margin in both houses based on their wins in the 2019 election. They’re up again in November 2023, when most voters are paying more attention to the 2024 Presidential primaries than to state politics.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    But Republicans have a natural advantage in low-turnout contests because their key constituency groups, the elderly and wealthy, are more likely to vote.

    Part of it is that Youngkin ran as a moderate but then went hard right as soon as he was in office, so I suspect there a bunch of people who did vote for him that are now having second thoughts.

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  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    It will be for you and others to comment on VA’s political system, but the plunging popularity of Youngkin’s, week after taking office is eerily similar to Biden’s and is a reflection on the American voters, childish, I want what I want and I want it now attitude. For some reason they voted for Youngkin/Biden, or didn’t vote and now they don’t remember why they voted for that candidate.

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  3. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Part of it is that Youngkin ran as a moderate but then went hard right as soon as he was in office, so I suspect there a bunch of people who did vote for him that are now having second thoughts.

    Youngkin ran on a fairly Trumpist agenda; he’s just more polished and less crass than Trump stylewise. He’s enacting exactly the policies he ran on.

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  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I think you have a typo.

    Less than six weeks into his term as governor, Republican Glenn Youngkin has more Virginia voters who approve than disapprove. WaPo:

    Virginia voters disagree with Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) on several major issues and are slightly more negative than positive about his performance after a month in office,

  5. MarkedMan says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Republicans, in general, run on lies, confidenct that only a small number of voters actually pay attention to what they do when they are elected.

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  6. ptfe says:

    @James Joyner: But he was insistent – insistent – that his agenda was not Trumpist, but simply looking out for Everyday Virginians. I’m shocked to find that a rich conservative running on populist misunderstandings of things like CRT (and exactly as predicted by McAuliffe’s campaign) actually was just a dressed-up DJT.

    Really, though, he didn’t run as a populist or a moderate, he ran as a blank slate that people could project onto. He latched onto two issues that became media faves to talk breathlessly about, and that was the ballgame. If you ever visited his campaign website, it was vacuous platitudes with zero policy except removing that grocery tax. It’s no shock that he won, since the constant stream of “CRT and why you should be thinking about it 24/7” made his power-to-the-parents BS seem totally reasonable. Now that it’s married with policy and the implications of that policy, the projection he took advantage of is no longer available.

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  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    Youngkin ran on a fairly Trumpist agenda; he’s just more polished and less crass than Trump stylewise. He’s enacting exactly the policies he ran on.

    He ran as a Trumpist on Trumpist media outlets, but his campaign in general media was to portray himself as a moderate that would protect people from left wing overreach and focus on “kitchen table” issues.

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  8. Mu Yixiao says:

    Less than six weeks into his term as governor, Republican Glenn Youngkin has more Virginia voters who approve than disapprove.

    I think this is backwards?

  9. Mikey says:

    @ptfe:

    populist misunderstandings of things like CRT

    Not to detract from an otherwise excellent comment, but I can’t agree with framing the Republican campaign against CRT as “misunderstandings.” It is a deliberately and purposely engineered chain of lies, created by a right-wing activist who has been entirely open about what he was doing and why.

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  10. ptfe says:

    @Mikey: 100% accurate

    It was clearly active lying with a specific purpose from the salesman side, but I’m not sure what to call it when it hits the ears of the buyer.

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  11. just nutha says:

    @ptfe: A Trumpist agenda IS moderate for Republicans. Even sainted and saintly Mitt of Romney said that he agreed with what Trump had accomplished on returning to the Senate. The boorishness is all that anyone ever objected to. The party needs to search for racist oligarch-friendly authoritarians who “clean up well” for the long term.

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  12. ptfe says:

    @just nutha: Yes, he’s squarely in the “moderate Republican” camp, but Youngkin appealed to what might be called “progressive Republicans” through his campaign – the ones who thought DJT’s overt wealth-loving racist embrace was just too much. Youngkin derided McAuliffe comparing him to Trump, because he could claim the mantle of (as noted above) the kitchen table issues guy, just regular folk ya know.

    It turns out his kitchen table issues are, in fact, the same as Trump’s, but with the extra layer of crassness brushed off. Enough voters bought the schtick, though, and now we’re stuck with it.

    Really not looking forward to seeing how much damage this guy does to my state.

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  13. Gavin says:

    @ptfe:

    It was clearly active lying with a specific purpose

    That’s disinformation.

    I’m not sure what to call it when it hits the ears of the buyer.

    Misinformation.

    Misinformation is false information that one spreads because they believe it to be true.
    Disinformation is false information that one spreads even though they know it to be false — they are intentionally trying to deceive people.

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  14. Raoul says:

    I would not say Youngkin ran on a Trumpist agenda, his campaign was mostly platitudes and vagaries, he even said that school districts had the right to mandate face masks to protect from COVID. He refused to answer questions on abortion and what elusive on charter schools. Those who read the fine print knew what Youngkin was about but he was able to hoodwink many, who now realize, a tad late, who he really is, thus the surprising low approval rating.

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  15. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @ptfe:

    Youngkin derided McAuliffe comparing him to Trump, because he could claim the mantle of (as noted above) the kitchen table issues guy, just regular folk ya know.

    Which is just ludicrous, to be frank about it. The guy spent the bulk of his adult life in private equity earning seven / eight figure compensation. The idea that he has any meaningful concept about / connection with they kitchen tables of the middle class is laughable.

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  16. Freedom soul says:

    CRT racist bull and Terry’s lying tongue got Younkin elected.
    Elected people in the northern counties do not reflect Virginia’s values.

  17. Richard Gardner says:

    WTF, Democracy = voting only during Presidential cycles? Because we need a God Emperor? Sorry James, disagree.

    What about all my local votes that actually make a huge difference to my pocketbook that are on weird cycles.

    You all know Bush was evil incarnate. The media told you so. So I remember my last visit to the polls in 2008 (we went to mail in only after that) and seeing all the first time voters thinking they had to vote on every last judge on the ballot – standing in line it was awful, all these first time voters that hated Bush upset that our local non-partisan judges were not partisan. And they thought they had to vote on every issue, even if they had no idea (vice leaving blank). Count every ignorant vote.

    I saw so many STUPID voters that day. Failed Civics.

  18. James Joyner says:

    @Richard Gardner:

    WTF, Democracy = voting only during Presidential cycles? Because we need a God Emperor? Sorry James, disagree.

    It’s a really complicated issue that has been laid out in a slew of OTB posts, mostly by Steven, over the years. The basic point, though, is that more voting is often actually less democratic.

    You’re certainly right that there are a lot of low-information voters. Because of the way we get information, Presidential general elections get the most attention and the highest level of informed voters. But the general election ballots for President are a product of the wishes of primary voters, who are incredibly unrepresentative.

    In off-year elections, far fewer people pay attention, much less bother to vote.

    In off-off-year elections, generally speaking, it’s even worse. So, a relative handful of highly-motivated voters are making the choice for everybody.