Public support for Gov. Bob McDonnell and the General Assembly has declined in the aftermath of a legislative session that featured divisive debates over abortion restrictions and gun laws, according to a statewide poll released this morning.
McDonnell’s approval rating dropped to 53 percent in the new Quinnipiac University survey, down 5 points from a poll conducted in early February. The new survey was conducted after the Republican governor signed a controversial law requiring women submit to an ultrasound procedure before having an abortion. The emotionally charged debate over the ultrasound law triggered protests at the state Capitol and put Virginia in the national spotlight.
In the poll, 52 percent of the registered voters surveyed oppose the ultrasound mandate and 41 percent support it. But opposition to the new law was stronger among men. Among women, only 49 percent oppose the law and 44 percent support it. A solid majority of Republican voters favor the ultrasound mandate, and most Democrats and independents oppose it.
McDonnell stepped into the debate last month, asking lawmakers to amend the legislation after realizing that it could require women to submit to a more invasive “transvaginal” procedure in order terminate an early-stage pregnancy. Lawmakers made those changes before sending the final version of the bill to the governor’s desk. The law, which will take effect July 1, will require an external, abdominal ultrasound.
While McDonnell still has a positive job approval rating, the General Assembly does not. Only 38 percent of the voters who participated in the Quinnipiac poll approve of the legislature’s performance, and 47 percent disapprove. That’s a dramatic change from a February survey in which 47 percent approved of the legislature’s work and only 37 percent disapproved.
The poll results come from telephone interviews with 1,034 registered voters conducted between March 13 and Sunday. The survey has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
The 60-day legislative session was marked by partisan tension in the evenly divided Senate and contentious debates over social issues and gun control. The session ended March 10 with lawmakers failing to pass a new state budget because of a partisan standoff in the Senate. A special session to deal with the budget resumes today.
“Virginia had been the only state surveyed by Quinnipiac University in which the state legislature had received a net positive job approval,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “The fact that the legislature’s approval dropped so much, while approval ratings for other statewide elected officials are basically unchanged indicates that voter dissatisfaction is targeted.”
McDonnell’s approval rating is the lowest since Quinnipiac began polling in Virginia last June. The governor still has an overall positive rating, with 32 percent saying they disapprove of his performance. But Quinnipiac released poll results Tuesday which indicated that McDonnell, who has been touted as a potential vice presidential candidate, would not give the GOP ticket a significant boost in Virginia.
In the last month, McDonnell signed the controversial ultrasound law and legislation that repeals Virginia’s one-per-month limit on handgun purchases. More than half of the participants in the Quinnipiac poll support the 19-year-old gun control law, though male voters are divided on the issue.
“The controversy over the ultrasound and handgun bills would be a logical explanation for the decline in his approval rating, which had been above 60 percent for much of last year,” Brown said.
McDonnell’s strongest support comes from Western Virginia, where 56 percent approve of the governor’s job performance.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner boasts the highest approval rating of any statewide elected official at 62 percent. U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, who is not seeking re-election this year, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli have net positive ratings in the poll.
The complete poll results can be viewed here.
– Michael Sluss