New Poll Data Reveals Richmond Political Priorities

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Adam Sachs, Staff Writer

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Richmond is known around the country for its vibrant arts scene, delicious food, craft breweries, and expanding communities. However, a multitude of headlines have arisen concerning Richmond’s famed Monument Avenue and the large Confederate Monuments that line its grassy median. The city has also received some media attention for inequity in our public schools, especially for African Americans and children in lower-income communities. Richmond voters are split on many of these key political issues, and learning to overcome these differences to create real change will be a key topic of discussion in local politics over the next few years.

A recent public opinion poll conducted during September 2017 by the Christopher Newport University Wason Center for Public Policy Survey Research Lab on behalf of the Richmond Times-Dispatch surveyed Richmond voters about favorability of local government figures and a number of controversial local issues. Of 644 total respondents, 340 were from the City of Richmond and 304 were from Chesterfield, Hanover, and Henrico. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points for regionwide questions and plus or minus 5.3 percentage points for questions on which only city residents were polled.

The survey found that Richmond voters would largely support a tax increase in order to improve the condition of Richmond public schools. This may be welcome news for City Council and Mayor Levar Stoney, who have faced great anguish from residents for the city’s underfunded, understaffed, and underperforming schools. The poll also found that a majority of central Virginians (73%) do not support using tax dollars to fund a replacement for The Diamond, the home stadium of the Richmond Flying Squirrels. Speculation about the possibility of a new baseball stadium has ebbed and flowed for years now, and it’s likely that Mayor Stoney will not promote a new project until he has more public support for such an undertaking. Furthermore, a majority of city voters (65%) opposed using public money to replace the crumbling, underused Richmond Coliseum. A spokesperson for the mayor said that neither project was being considered by Mayor Stoney as part of the city budget, nor did City Council members believe such projects should go forward.

Moreover, 63% of city voters, an overwhelming majority, said they support Mayor Levar Stoney’s job performance thus far. This is far greater than previous Mayor Dwight Jones’s approval rating around this time, which maxed out at 23%. However, Richmond voters generally dislike the City Council and School Board’s performance.

Perhaps the most important findings of this public opinion poll regarded voters’ opinions on the removal of Confederate Monuments. Respondents did not approve of taking down Confederate monuments, and many favored adding context to these monuments. However, voters’ opinions were largely split along party and demographic lines. For example, 57% of Democrats said they support removal of the monuments, while 90% of Republican voters were opposed. Furthermore, African American voters largely supported removing the monuments (55%) and only 22% of white voters supported the removal. Many respondents also supported adding context to Confederate monuments, a position that Mayor Stoney held at the beginning of his term. It wasn’t until after the fatal white supremacist violence in Charlottesville that Mayor Stoney announced that his pioneering “Monument Avenue Commission,” would consider removal as an option.

Richmond and its surrounding counties certainly have a host of issues to contend with over the next few years. From problems in our public schools and inefficiency in city government to a large difference of opinion regarding the removal of Confederate Monuments, it’s clear that Richmond has many dilemmas to ponder in the near future. However, with a new, young mayor and a growing economy, the City of Richmond certainly has an opportunity to grow and develop into a national leader in progress and open-mindedness.

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New Poll Data Reveals Richmond Political Priorities