SALEM, Va. -

Virginians strongly favor some of the proposed improvements to the state's mental health system, according to a new poll released Tuesday by Roanoke College.

A poll of Virginia residents found 81 percent favored extending the length of emergency custody to 24 hours.

Eighty-one percent also favored creating an electronic registry of available psychiatric beds.

Fewer Virginians (70 percent) approved of a proposal to add $38 million dollars in state mental health funding.

The poll also looked at proposed government ethics reforms and a possible U.S. Senate matchup. Sixty percent of the poll’s respondents agree that gifts to elected officials should be limited to $250 in value. In a very early test of a possible November matchup, U.S. Senator leads Republican Ed Gillespie by almost 30 points (50% to 21%).

Here is the news release from Roanoke College:

Virginians support ethics and mental health reforms; split on Medicaid expansion; Warner leads widely-unknown Gillespie in possible Senate race

Virginians strongly support mental health and ethics reforms, but are divided on Medicaid expansion, according to The Roanoke College Poll. In a very early test of a possible November match-up, Senator Mark Warner leads Republican Ed Gillespie by almost 30 points (50%-21%), but Gillespie is unfamiliar to most Virginians.

The Roanoke College Poll interviewed 633 residents in Virginia between January 13 and January 17 and has a margin of error of +3.9 percent. (The election question was only asked of registered voters—N=553, margin of error = 4.2%)

Issues in the 2014 General Assembly

There is a consensus among most Virginians that gifts to elected officials and their families should be regulated more strictly. Sixty percent of the respondents agree that gifts to elected officials should be limited to $250 in value, while another 20 percent think that limit is too high. Two-thirds (66%) think that gifts to families should also be limited, and 70 percent agree that those gifts should be reported.

Respondents also strongly support reform of the state’s mental health procedures. A large majority (81%) of Virginians support extending the length of time for emergency custody to 24 hours, while 7 percent prefer an expansion to six hours. An equal number (81%) favor creating an electronic registry of available beds in psychiatric facilities, and nearly as many (70%) favor adding $38 million to the next budget for mental health care as proposed by former Governor Bob McDonnell.

After 50 years of the War on Poverty, just over one-third (36%) of those interviewed judged the program a success, while nearly two-thirds said it was not very successful (31%) or not at all successful (32%). Respondents were also asked what percentage of the poor they think are in poverty through no fault of their own. The average was 42 percent, and the midpoint (median) was 40 percent (20% were unable or refused to answer the question). With regard to Medicaid expansion, one-third (33%) said the program should be expanded in Virginia only when it is reformed to be more efficient. Slightly fewer (30%) said it should be expanded now, and one in four (26%) said it should not be expanded at all.

With regard to other issues before the General Assembly, residents are split on granting in-state tuition to undocumented students who have graduated from a Virginia high school and have lived in the Commonwealth for at least three years (46% favor the idea, and 41% oppose it). Residents are also split on the SOL (Standards of Learning) tests, with 45 percent in favor of eliminating them altogether, and 46 percent preferring to keep them. Respondents favor (69%) automatic restoration of voting privileges to non-violent felons who have completed their sentence. Finally, Virginians continue to express strong support (69%) for allowing Governors of the state to run for consecutive terms of office.

Regulating firearms

Support for gun control has remained steady over the course of the past year, while several national polls have shown a decline in support a year after the Newtown, CT shootings. Strong majorities of Virginians support requiring background checks for all firearm purchases at gun shows (85%) and universal background checks for firearm purchases, including private transactions (75%).

Respondents were asked if they favored banning a variety of different types of firearms. A majority (55%) favored banning “assault rifles.” Virginians are evenly split regarding banning all semi-automatic rifles (47% favor, 48% oppose), marginally oppose banning semi-automatic shotguns (45% favor, 50% oppose) and oppose banning semi-automatic handguns (43% favor, 52% oppose). More than one-fourth (26%) of those interviewed favor banning all guns. A ban on all magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds was favored by 49 percent. Although support for gun control seemed to slip slightly in the April and July Roanoke College Polls, the current results are generally within the margin of error from those obtained last January, and the percentage of residents willing to ban all guns has increased by 10 percent. This sample was slightly less likely to have a gun in the household, and there were slightly fewer gun owners when compared to January, 2013. Gun owners are less supportive of all regulations, especially bans, but majorities supported background checks at gun shows (74%) and universal background checks (56%).

Elected officials’ approval ratings, favorable/unfavorable views and direction of state and country

President Barack Obama’s favorable rating is 47 percent (43% unfavorable), which is slightly lower than in the October 30, 2013 Roanoke College Poll. Former Governor Bob McDonnell finished his term at 43 percent, up 3 percent from October 30, while Terry McAuliffe begins his term as Governor with a 36 percent favorable rating (22% unfavorable). Senator Mark Warner has a favorable rating of 47 percent, down 10 percent from September, and Senator Tim Kaine sits at 40 percent, a decline of 8 points since September. Ed Gillespie, former Republican National Committee Chair and potential Senate candidate, has only a 6 percent favorable rating, with 13 percent unfavorable, but three-fourths (75%) of Virginians do not know enough about him to have an opinion.

Obama’s job approval rating has declined 5 points since October 30, 2013 Roanoke College Poll and now is at 38 percent (47% disapprove). McDonnell’s approval rating is 45 percent, and McAuliffe begins his term at 37 percent, while Congressional approval rose sharply to 14 percent (a full 10 points higher than October 30.)

Virginians remain more optimistic regarding the state of the Commonwealth than that of the country. Almost half (47%) think the state is going in the right direction, while two-thirds (66%) think the country has gotten off on the wrong track. Both of those measures have been fairly consistent over the course of the past year.

A preference for divided government and compromise

A majority of Virginians (60%) thinks that government functions better when the parties split control of the executive and legislative branches. At the same time, a larger majority (71%) thinks that elected officials should compromise in order to get things done rather than sticking to their principles if it means the government would not function smoothly. This represents an increase in those who prefer split government, and a decrease in the preference for compromise from October during the federal government shutdown.


“Virginians clearly support reforms to the mental health system and ethics laws in the Commonwealth,” said Dr. Harry Wilson, director of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research. “They are more split on Medicaid reform, perhaps due in part to their views regarding the poor and their skepticism of programs designed to help them, such as the War on Poverty.”