Virginia voters divided on blame for Charlottesville violence

The poll of Virginia registered voters was conducted August 15-19, 2017 by The MassINC Polling Group.  (Topline, Crosstabs) About half see at least equal blame for violence at the Charlottesville white nationalist rally. Many Virginia voters (47 percent) believe the counter protesters in Charlottesville deserve at least equal blame for the violence at last week’s white nationalist rally. President Donald Trump’s comments on this question set off a wave of condemnation from political and business leaders. But when Trump said "I think there is blame on both sides," nearly half of Virginia voters agree with him.

Just 40 percent of Virginia voters agree that the white nationalist rally-goers were mostly to blame, nearly identical to the 41 percent who pointed to both sides. Another 6 percent mostly blame the counter-protesters, bringing the total who assign at least equal blame to the counter-protesters up to 47 percent.

Many agree with Trump on blame, but still decry his handling of Charlottesville. Though more voters agree with Trump on assigning blame for violence at the rally, just 30 percent approve of his overall handling of the incident. This includes 66 percent of Republicans, 33 percent of independents, and 3 percent of Democrats. A new ABC national poll offers some insight into this disconnect, with voters saying Trump elevates neo-Nazis and white supremacists. The ABC poll finds that 42 percent believe Trump has been "equating neo-Nazis and white supremacists with those who oppose them," and another 23 percent are unsure. Another poll found a growing number of Americans (now 38 percent) believe Trump supports white nationalism and another 20 percent are unsure. Probably needless to say, other polls have found these groups to be politically toxic, making any such ambiguity a potentially major political liability.

Most voters are fine with keeping Confederate monuments. Virginia voters are far more likely to see Confederate monuments as symbols of Southern heritage (52 percent) rather than racism (25 percent). In keeping with this view, just 28 percent say they should be removed from public property, while 51 percent believe the monuments should stay. This is nearly identical to a recent national poll from Reuters and another from The Economist. On this issue, Virginia voters hold very similar views to the nation as a whole.

As with nearly every issue these days, views are divided by party. Democratic voters would like the statues removed (52 percent to 20 percent).  But Republicans are far more unified in saying they should stay (81 percent), and a majority of independents (57 percent) agree with them. This highlights the political hazard for Democrats of going after monuments as part and parcel of condemning white supremacists--opinion on the two issues differs greatly.

About the Poll: These results are based on a survey of 508 registered voters in Virginia. Interviews were conducted August 15-19, 2017 by live telephone interviews via both landline and cell phone using conventional registration based sampling procedures. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is +/- 4.4 percent with a 95 percent level of confidence.