The Washington Post has a new poll out about Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and that poll shows clearly, for better or worse, why I think he almost certainly won’t be resigning his office. The top line number in the poll is that the state is split 47% to 47% on the question of whether or not he should resign. That’s certainly not great in general. But those aren’t the kind of numbers that make any elected leader actually step down. The underlying numbers though are even more revealing.
One key number is that Northam has higher support for staying in office among African-American residents than among white resident – 58% to 37% say he should remain in office. All told, those are numbers that must greatly hearten Northam and his political advisors. To a degree, that’s probably as much a measure of the partisan breakdown as the racial once since the state’s African-American population is overwhelmingly Democratic. Overall, 40% of Democrats say he should step down while 57% say he should not. Again, for an elected Democrat, those are not numbers that make you feel like you have no choice but to resign.
Republicans want Northam to step down by a 56% to 42% margin and independents favor resignation by a thin 47% to 43% margin. To understand that number it’s always important to remember that, despite what many assume, identifying as an independent does not equate with between at the ideological center. In recent years, it’s an identification that usually leans to the right.
One number that is clearly buoying Northam is the answer to this question: “Do you think the Northam’s yearbook photo is (an isolated incident) or is it (a sign of broader racial prejudice in his life)?” Overall, 50% say isolated incident and 34% say it’s a sign of racial prejudice. Notably, African-Americans are more evenly divided on this point. 48% says isolated incident, 43% say it’s a sign of a broader racial prejudice.
Again, whatever you think of the merits, as a factual matter these numbers leave little doubt in my mind that Northam will not resign from office.