Poll: Virginians more satisfied with democracy in the commonwealth than nation; Virginians more anxious about national politics
SALEM, Va. (WDBJ/Roanoke College Poll) - Recent polling by the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College, in partnership with researchers at Marymount University’s Center for Professional Ethics and Social Responsibility, provides insight into Virginia citizens’ attitudes regarding national political anxiety, satisfaction with democracy and trust in government institutions.
These findings are based on interviews with 678 adult residents of Virginia between May 14 and May 23, 2023. The survey has a margin of error of 4.43%, according to poll organizers.
Satisfaction with Democracy and Political Trust
IPOR is partnering with Matthew Bergman and Marymount University’s Center for Professional Ethics and Social Responsibility to measure the public’s satisfaction with democracy, trust in governmental institutions and attitudes about campaign messaging. IPOR will field a series of questions about these topics in this year’s May, August and November surveys.
The Roanoke College Poll asked Virginians’ opinions about their satisfaction with democracy and trust in political institutions. On a 10-point scale, Virginians were overall more satisfied with how democracy works within the state (6.2) and their city or counties (6.3) than in the nation overall (5.2). There were notable party differences between these. On all three measures, Virginia Democrats had notably greater satisfaction than Virginia Republicans. They averaged one point higher in democratic satisfaction as it relates to the nation overall as well as in their city or county. Regionally, those living in Southwest Virginia were the least satisfied on all three measures while those in Southside were the most satisfied on all three measures.
Virginians were also asked their level of trust in a variety of political institutions on the same 10-point scale: the legal system, police, politicians, political parties, the state legislature, the governor, the national legislature and the president. On all but one of these institutions, Virginians have less than 5 (on the 0-10 scale) level of trust. The police score highest (5.7), followed by the governor (4.9). On most measures, Democrats had higher trust except for the governor and the police. Regionally, Northern Virginians had the highest levels of trust in these institutions while Southwest Virginia, again, tended to be the lowest scoring.
Political Anxiety and Attitudes About the National Government
Since 2016, IPOR has been tracking Virginians’ national political sentiment using an index of political anxiety, which is constructed using six questions that measure Virginians’ attitudes about (1) trust in the national government, (2) citizens’ ability to influence government, (3) whether their side has been winning more often than losing, (4) satisfaction with how government is working, (5) whether the country’s best years are ahead or behind, and (6) whether Americans are united or divided in facing our most important challenges. We last reported results of the political anxiety index in November 2022.
IPOR’s Political Anxiety Index has a maximum possible value of 300 and minimum possible value of -300, with higher values representing greater degrees of national political anxiety. The graph below displays trends in the Political Anxiety Index from 2017 through our current May 2023 poll, including the overall trend and the trend disaggregated by party affiliation. For additional party differences on the six questions, see the selected crosstabs at the end of the topline document linked at the end of this release.
While overall national political anxiety is up, several interesting results emerge when we disaggregate the Political Anxiety Index by demographic characteristics. First, those without a college degree have a level of political anxiety (139.2) that exceeds the sample average (dotted line in graph below), while those with a college degree report a lower level of anxiety (47.8). Second, those who report earning less than $75,000 per year report greater political anxiety (133.9) than those earning more than $75,000 per year (86.2). Third, women report a higher level of national political anxiety (110.7) than men (78.1). Fourth, white respondents report greater anxiety (101.6) than Black respondents (50.0). Finally, while we do not see notable differences across age categories, we do see differences across self-reported ideology that mirror the partisan differences in anxiety we track in the graph below. Conservatives (158.1) report significantly higher levels of anxiety than both moderates (91.0) and liberals (29.5).
As reported previously, party differences in national political anxiety often reflect party control of the White House. In other words, Virginians tend to report higher levels of political anxiety when the current president is not aligned with their political party. Republicans (red line) currently report a higher degree of anxiety in our index, which has remained relatively stable during the Biden administration. Democrats (blue line) currently report a lower degree of anxiety, but with a 38-point increase from our November poll. While overall national political anxiety (grey line) has remained relatively stable for most of the time IPOR has tracked the index, there has been a gradual increase of approximately 50 points since early 2021.
“The main takeaway from our May poll is that more Virginians are reporting more anxiety about national politics,” said Bryan Parsons, senior political analyst at IPOR. “We see this reflected in our Political Anxiety Index, which is up overall and among Democrats since the last time we measured it in November. When we look at national political anxiety across several demographic characteristics, we find significant differences across education, income, race, gender and ideology. These results reflect many important political cleavages that have been, and continue to, shape American national politics.”
“When looking at the results on democratic satisfaction, there are notable differences by party,” said Matthew Bergman of Marymount’s Center for Professional Ethics and Social Responsibility. “It would seem that having a Democratic president and U.S. Senate under Democratic control influences Virginians’ beliefs, with Democrats being more satisfied, even though there is currently a Republican governor and Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates. Surprisingly, Virginia Democrats are even more satisfied with how democracy works in Virginia, even though that party is not dominant.”
“As it relates to political trust,” Bergman said, “on the whole, Virginians are quite distrustful, especially of national institutions, politicians and parties. They have a greater trust in state and local institutions. We similarly note that Republicans are more distrusting of most political institutions except for the governor and police.”
Interviewing for the Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, between May 14 and May 23, 2023. A total of 678 completed interviews came from random telephone calls to 399 Virginians, and 279 responses were drawn from a proprietary online panel of Virginians. Telephone interviews were conducted in English. Cellphones constituted 57% of the completed phone interviews. Marketing Systems Group provided the telephone dialing frame, and Lucid, LLC facilitated the online panel.
Questions answered by the sample of 678 respondents are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4.43% at the 95% confidence level. This means that in 95 out of 100 samples like the one used here, the results should be at most 4.43 percentage points above or below the figure obtained by interviewing all Virginians with a home telephone or a cellphone. Where the results of subgroups are reported, the sampling error is higher.
Quotas were used to ensure that different regions of the commonwealth were proportionately represented. The data were statistically weighted for gender, race and age. Weighting was done to match Virginia data in the 2021 one-year American Community Survey (ACS). The design effect was 1.383; the reported margin of error above reflects this design effect.
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