RC Poll: Citizen Views of Taxes, Energy, the Environment and possible Allen-Kaine campaign

McDonnell’s approval up; Obama’s unchanged

Salem, Va. — In anticipation of the April 18 federal income tax filing deadline, citizens of the Commonwealth have weighed in with their attitudes toward taxes, energy sources, protecting the environment, and a likely George Allen – Tim Kaine matchup in the Virginia Senate election in 2012. Gov. Kaine had not formally announced his intentions when the poll was conducted, but it was widely believed that he would run for the Senate. Sen. Allen had previously announced his candidacy.

In a very early look at the possible battle for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jim Webb, registered voters in the Commonwealth preferred former Gov. and U.S. Sen. George Allen, a Republican, over former Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, by 45 percent to 32 percent with 23 percent undecided. [Please note that the margin of error for this question was + 5.2 percent because it was asked only of the 360 registered voters in the sample.]

Among the battleground groups, Kaine led among political moderates (41%-34%), while Allen led among Independent voters (40%-35%). Not surprisingly, Allen led among Republicans (78%-4%) and conservatives (68%-10%) while Kaine led among Democrats (79%-12%) and liberals (83%-10%). Allen’s lead could be attributed to the large number of conservatives in Virginia, a finding that closely matches the December, 2010 Roanoke College Poll.

General Views on Virginia and the Nation

Perceptions of the Commonwealth have improved since the December poll, with almost half (49%) saying that things in Virginia are going in the right direction and 36 percent saying things are on the wrong track. (December results were 45 percent right direction and 43 percent wrong track.) At the same time, Governor Bob McDonnell’s approval rating is now 66 percent, up from 57 percent in December.

With regard to the nation, 71 percent of respondents believe that things are on the wrong track with only 20 percent believing that things are going in the right direction. This is essentially unchanged from December. President Obama’s approval rating is now 34 percent, compared to 36 percent in December, well within the polls’ margin of error.

Taxes, the Budget Deficit, and Wealth

A majority of respondents (59%) prefer that the federal budget deficit be reduced through a combination of budget cuts and tax increases, but more than one-third (37%) prefer budget cuts alone, and only 4 percent want tax increases alone. (This represents a 12 percent increase for budget cuts alone and a 13 percent decrease for a combined approach from December when a similar question about state finances was asked.) Interestingly, respondents were split regarding whether the government should (47%) or should not (46%) redistribute wealth by increasing taxes on the rich.

Respondents perceive that the rich are paying too little in federal taxes (63%), while middle income people are paying their fair share (53%) or too much (39%) in taxes. Opinion was evenly split regarding the poor paying their fair share (40%) or too much (39%), but 20 percent did say the poor are paying too little. Two-thirds (67%) said that corporations are paying too little. More than half of respondents (58%) thought that everyone should pay something in taxes, regardless of how much or how little they make, but 36 percent said that not everyone should pay. Most people (69%) perceive their tax burden this year as fair.

Other findings:

  • A plurality of Virginia residents (44%) think they should pay less than 20 percent of their income in taxes.
  • When asked how much the rich should pay in taxes, 53 percent of respondents think the rich should pay between 30 and 39 percent of their income in taxes.
  • What defines “rich?” According to 40 percent of respondents, an income of $100,000 or less would define a person as rich. Twenty-six percent think that cutoff point is between $100,001 and $250,000, while 21 percent think it is between $250,001 and $500,000. Eleven percent think people earning between $500,001 and $1 million are rich, while 3 percent think an income in excess of $1 million was needed for a person to be considered rich.

Residents of Virginia seem to be evenly split with regard to support for either the Fair Tax (41% think it is a good idea; 41% think it is not a good idea) or the Flat Tax (43% think it is a good idea; 44% think it is not). That said, they prefer either the Fair Tax (34%) or the Flat Tax (31%) to the current system of taxation (23%). While this seems to somewhat contradict the preference expressed above that the rich pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes, it may reflect a general discontent with the current tax code.

Energy and the Environment

Offered a choice of protecting the environment or promoting economic growth, respondents chose the former (47%-31%). However, when offered the choice of protecting the environment or developing domestic energy sources, they chose the latter (43%-39%).Respondents were then asked if the U.S. should expand, limit, or ban several different sources of energy. Support for expanding various means of energy production were solar power (94%), hydroelectric power (89%), wind turbines (87%), drilling for natural gas (77%), drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (67%), offshore drilling for oil (56%), coal mining (51%), and nuclear power (48%). It should be noted that the interviews were conducted at a time of rising oil costs due to developments in the Middle East and shortly after the tsunami and nuclear power plant problems in Japan.

A majority of respondents (56%) think there is solid evidence of global warming (see frequencies link for precise wording). A plurality thought this is due primarily to human activities such as burning fossil fuels (40%), but nearly as many (35%) thought it is due primarily to natural patterns in the environment, and 18% thought it is attributable to both. Respondents were much more likely, however, to think that the national debt (56%) posed a greater threat to future generations than environmental damage (28%).


Specific crosstabs will be provided upon request.


Interviewing for The Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Institute for Opinion and Policy Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. between March 17 and March 30, 2011. The sample consisted of 437 residents of Virginia. The sample of phone numbers was prepared by Survey Sampling Inc. of Fairfield, Conn. and was created so that all residential telephone numbers, including unlisted numbers, had a known chance of inclusion.

Questions answered by the entire sample of 437 likely voters are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4.7 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 4.7 percentage points above or below the figure that would be obtained by interviewing all registered voters who have a telephone. Where the results of subgroups are reported, the sampling error is higher.

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

Released: April 7, 2011
Contact Name: Dr. Harry L. Wilson, Director
Contact Phone: Office: 540-375-2415 Home: 540-992-1333 Cell: 540-293-4206
Contact Email: wilson@roanoke.edu