RC Poll: Virginians Support Immigration Reform; Split on Same-Sex Marriage; favor firearm regulations

Virginians generally support allowing those people currently living in the United States illegally to remain here legally, and half support a path to citizenship for them.  Residents of the Old Dominion are split on the issue of same-sex marriage, although they generally favor other legal rights for gays. Opinions regarding gun control are mostly unchanged since a poll taken soon after the Newtown, Conn. shootings. These findings are part of the most recent Roanoke College Poll.

The Roanoke College Poll interviewed 629 Virginia residents between April 8 and April 14 and has a margin of error of +3.9 percent. 

Immigration reform

Offered a choice of how to deal with immigrants in the U.S. illegally, half (50%) of the respondents favored citizenship if certain conditions were met, 21 percent would allow them to become legal residents but not citizens, and 21 percent preferred to deport them.

A majority of Virginians favored creating a database for employers to verify immigration status (78%), allowing foreign graduates of U.S. colleges with degrees in math, science or technology to legally work in the U.S. (67%), expanding guest worker programs to offer temporary visas to those who wish to work here (67%), and granting citizenship to law-abiding college graduates whose parents are here illegally (73%).

A large majority think that immigrants are changing American society (64% a lot; 31% a little), and a plurality of those who see change think it is overall a good thing (43%).

Same-sex marriage and gay rights

Virginians are mostly split on the issue of same-sex marriage, with 45 percent favoring it (20% strongly) and 42 percent opposing it (19% strongly). Half (50%) of those who oppose gay marriage also oppose civil unions for gays (28% support civil unions). One-fourth (25%) of those who favor gay marriage have changed their minds over time, while only 4 percent of those who oppose it have changed their mind.

A majority of Virginians agree that same-sex marriage would go against their religious beliefs (54%), but think that same-sex couples can be as good as parents as heterosexuals (60%), and think that same-sex couples should have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples (62%). Respondents were split on whether gay marriage would undermine the traditional American family (45% agreed; 46% disagreed). A large majority (85%) of those interviewed said they know someone who is gay.

Gun control

We asked several questions that were included in the January 2013 Roanoke College Poll, and the responses were very similar. Responses to the previously asked questions were within the margin of error in each case.

Respondents were more likely to think that better enforcement of existing gun laws (53%) was more likely to reduce gun violence than tougher gun laws (37%). Most Virginians (66%) think that guns in the possession of a law-abiding citizen are more likely to be used in self defense than in an accidental shooting (20%). More than half (55%) of those interviewed said that stricter gun control laws would make no difference to their personal safety, while just less than one-third (31%) said stricter laws would make them more safe, and 10 percent said they would make them less safe.

Strong majorities support requiring background checks for all firearm purchases at gun shows (84%) and universal background checks for firearm purchase, including private transactions (73%). At the same time, a majority (54%) think that expanded checks will have no impact on crime. Respondents were slightly more likely to think that making gun purchases more difficult would reduce crime because there would be fewer guns (39%) than increase crime because fewer potential victims would be able to defend themselves (32%).

A majority (56%) favored banning "assault rifles." A ban on all magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds was favored by 52 percent of respondents.

As was the case in January, there are significant differences in opinion between gun owners and those who do not own firearms, typically exceeding 20 percent. A majority of gun owners favor expanded background checks, but at lower rates than non-owners, and their support has declined slightly since January. Gun owners are opposed to bans of assault rifles or larger-than-10-round magazines, both of which are favored by non-owners.

Just over seven in 10 (71%) respondents said they had fired a gun at least once in their lives, and 68 percent said they were at least somewhat familiar with how guns work. More than half (58%) grew up in a household in which guns were present. About one-third (35%) of respondents were gun owners, and another 11 percent said that someone else in their home owns a gun.


"The findings clearly indicate that Virginians support changes to the immigration system," said Dr. Harry Wilson, director of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research. "Nearly three-fourths of those surveyed would like to see some way that the status of those who are in the U.S. illegally could be changed to legal, and half are open to a path to citizenship."

"While Virginians are split pretty evenly on the issue of same-sex marriage, they are generally supportive of other legal rights for gays and they tend to think that same-sex couples can be good parents. Their concerns tend to be religious in nature and focused on the family. Opinion may be evolving on this issue, as can be seen in the fact that many more people have changed their mind to favor same-sex marriage than to oppose it. That trend is also evidenced in many national surveys."

"Several national surveys have seen erosion in support for gun control over the past few months, but that decline is not evident in this poll," said Wilson, author of "Guns, Gun Control and Elections." "Overall, residents of the Old Dominion still support stronger gun control measures, they tend to think those restrictions will have little impact. And, not surprisingly, there are still significant differences in the opinions of gun owners when compared to those who do not own firearms."


Interviewing for The Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. between April 8 and April 14, 2013. A total of 629 Virginia residents were interviewed.  The sample of land lines and cell phones was prepared by Survey Sampling Inc. of Fairfield, Conn. and was created so that all cell phone and residential telephone numbers, including unlisted numbers, had a known chance of inclusion.  Cell phones constituted 23 percent of the completed interviews.

Questions answered by the entire sample of 629 residents are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus approximately 3.9 percent at the 95 percent level of confidence.  This means that in 95 out of 100 samples like the one used here, the results obtained should be no more than 3.9 percentage points above or below the figure that would be obtained by interviewing all Virginia residents who have a home telephone or a cell phone.  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.

A copy of the questionnaire and all frequencies may be found on the Roanoke College web site.


Released: April 18, 2013
Contact Name: Dr. Harry Wilson
Contact Phone: (540) 375-2415 (office), (540) 992-1333 (home), (540) 293-4206 (cell)
Contact Email: wilson@roanoke.edu


About the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research

IPOR conducts monthly surveys in Virginia that benefit the community, state and nation. Regular topics include Virginians' consumer confidence and political candidate polling. 

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