RC Poll: Virginians support same-sex marriage, Warner leads Gillespie in possible Senate race
Although Virginians support a hypothetical national law legalizing same-sex marriage in every state (54%-40%), they are split regarding Attorney General Mark Herring's decision to side with the plaintiffs on the legal challenge to Virginia's prohibition of gay marriage (46% disagreed, 45% agreed), according to The Roanoke College Poll. Most of those polled (57%) think the attorney general should defend every law of the state.
Also, in a very early test of a possible November match-up, Senator Mark Warner leads Republican Ed Gillespie by almost 30 points (56%-29%).
The Roanoke College Poll interviewed 821 residents in Virginia between February 22 and February 28 and has a margin of error of +3.4 percent. (The election questions was only asked of registered voters-N=707, margin of error = 3.9%) The poll was part of a joint project with the Siena New York Poll and the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll (NJ), in which polls were conducted simultaneously within the three states. The joint press release for that project may be found here. 
With regard to presidential politics, Hillary Clinton (28%) easily outdistanced the field in an open-ended question asking who the respondent would most like to see become the next president. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (7%) led a fragmented field of Republicans. In potential match-ups in 2016, registered voters in Virginia preferred Clinton over Christie (48%-40%), U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (51%-40%), and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (52%-38%).
Respondents were asked to imagine if they were a U.S. Senator and had to vote today on a series of issues. They were then asked how upset they would be if the vote went against their position. These measures provide both the preferred position and the intensity of that position.
With regard to "state pride," given the choice of where to live, 88 percent of Virginians prefer their home state to New York (7%) or New Jersey (4%). In addition, 21 percent think that politicians in Virginia are less corrupt than those in other states (6% said more corrupt, which appears low in light of the recent indictment of former Governor Bob McDonnell). Responses to these questions were more favorable toward the home state than those from New York or New Jersey.
Regarding gun control, nearly half of the respondents (47%) said that stricter laws would make no difference to their personal safety, while 35 percent said such laws would make them safer. When asked to name the issue most responsible for mass shootings, the most common response was poor policies dealing with mental illness (44%), followed by a simple inability to stop those who want to kill others (21%), violent media (15%), and weak gun laws (10%).
In economic terms, Virginians perceive too much government (52%) to be a greater problem than income inequality (45%). And the solution to America's economic problems are more likely to be found in polices which reduce spending and balance the budget (56%) rather than programs which stimulate the economy and may involve increasing the debt (34%).
Major storms that have hit the East Coast in the past two years were more likely to be seen as evidence of global climate change (50%) than simply isolated weather events (42%).
Elected officials' favorable/unfavorable views and direction of state and country
Mark Warner's favorable ratings (59%) topped the list of elected officials and possible presidential candidates, followed by Hillary Clinton (56%), Senator Tim Kaine (49%), President Barack Obama (45%), Governor Terry McAuliffe (45%), Congressman Paul Ryan (40%), NJ Governor Chris Christie (38%), U.S. Senator Rand Paul (32%), and NY Governor Andrew Cuomo (26%).
Virginians are more optimistic regarding the state of the Commonwealth than that of the country. Almost half (46%) think the state is on the right track, while nearly three-in-five (58%) think the country is headed in the wrong direction.
"While a majority of Virginians may support gay marriage, they are split on the actions of Attorney General Herring," said Dr. Harry Wilson, director of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research. "They would prefer that the attorney general defend all state laws."
"Politically, Virginia is still purple although Senator Warner and Hillary Clinton hold leads over likely opponents. The 2014 Senate election is a long ways off, and 2016 is an eternity from now in politics."
"Despite their political differences, Virginians seem to have a more positive view of their state and their elected officials than those who live in New York or New Jersey."
Interviewing for The Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. between February 22 and February 28, 2014. A total of 821 Virginia residents were interviewed. The sample included both land lines and cell phones and was created so that all cell phone and residential telephone numbers, including unlisted numbers, had a known chance of inclusion. Cell phones constituted 37 percent of the completed interviews.
Questions answered by the entire sample of 821 residents are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus approximately 3.4 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 3.4 percentage points above or below the figure that would be obtained by interviewing all Virginians who have a home telephone or a cell phone. When restricted to the 707 registered voters interviewed, the margin of error is 3.7 percentage points.
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.
 Due to the joint nature of this poll, some questions were worded differently than is typical for the Roanoke College Poll. Therefore, these results may not be precisely comparable to those from previous RC Polls. No such comparisons are made in this release. The questions related to the Senate election and the actions of Mark Herring were only asked on the RC Poll.
- Dr. Harry Wilson
- (540) 375-2415 (office), (540) 992-1333 (home), (540) 293-4206 (cell)