Poll: Virginians evenly split on Medicaid expansion

Virginians are divided along political, racial and gender lines over expanding the state's Medicaid program under provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.

The poll, released Thursday, shows 45 percent of Virginians supporting expanding the commonwealth's health care program for the poor compared to 43 percent opposing expansion – a statistical tie given the poll's plus-or-minus 3 percentage point margin of error.

Medicaid expansion in Virginia may not happen for at least a year under a deal reached by lawmakers during the 2013 session and clarified by Gov. Bob McDonnell on Monday. Under the budget compromise specific reforms must be made to the state's Medicaid program before a commission of 10 lawmakers can approve the expansion to 133 percent of the federal poverty level under the omnibus federal health care reform law.

While the respondents overall were evenly split on the idea, demographic breakdowns in the poll show Democrats, blacks and women tend to favor Medicaid expansion, and Republicans, whites and men tend to oppose it.

Democrats favor expansion 73 percent to 18 percent compared to Republicans, who oppose Medicaid expansion 67 percent to 22 percent, and independent voters oppose it 47 percent to 40 percent.

Women support Medicaid expansion 48 percent to 39 percent, while men oppose it 48 percent to 42 percent. Black voters favor the expansion 68 percent to 20 percent, with white voters opposing expansion 50 percent to 38 percent.

The poll of 1,098 registered voters in the commonwealth found that people familiar with the details of the comprehensive transportation deal passed by the General Assembly approved of the measure 33 percent to 11 percent – although 55 percent of respondents said they did not know enough about the plan to form an opinion.

"Although the fight in the legislature over the governor's transportation package was bitter and divisive, the voting public isn't nearly as split over the plan," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "While more than half the voters don't have a view on the plan, support among those who know about the issue is 3-1.

"It will be interesting to see if Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli's criticism of the package, presented by fellow Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, plays a role in the race for governor."

Attorney General Cuccinelli issued a legal opinion late last week that said the regional components of the transportation plan were unconstitutional. McDonnell worked with Cuccinelli over the weekend to rework the language of the regional component for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to make the additional transportation taxes for those areas pass constitutional muster.

Respondents heavily favored a measure signed into law by McDonnell to keep the names and information of people with permits to carry concealed weapons secret, 60 percent to 35 percent.

In the wake of the federal sequestration cuts going into effect President Barack Obama saw his job approval rating drop, with only 45 percent approving his work compared to 49 percent who disapprove. In a Feb. 21 Quinnipiac poll Obama had a positive approval rating of 51 percent to 46 percent.