- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 14, 2011

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A new statewide poll shows strong support in Virginia for tougher regulation of outpatient abortion clinics, and overwhelming approval of the job Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell is doing.

The Quinnipiac University Poll, released Wednesday, comes one day before the State Board of Health is expected to adopt new regulations that hold Virginia abortion clinics to the same standards as hospitals instead of doctors’ offices, as policies now require.

Abortion rights advocates say the proposed clinic regulations, which arose from a law the General Assembly enacted and McDonnell enthusiastically signed last winter, amount to an end run around the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.

But the 1,368 registered Virginia voters Quinnipiac interviewed from Sept. 6-12 didn’t see it that way. Fifty-five percent of them said they support holding the clinics to tougher health standards and 22 percent opposed, 20 percent did not know and 3 percent refused to answer. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.

Support was strong even though 50 percent in the survey said abortion should be legal compared with 41 percent who said it should be outlawed. But the same 50 percent told Quinnipiac the proposed regulations are necessary to protect the health of women who have abortions.

Most of the state’s 21 clinics say they will have to close because of costs for retrofitting facilities to meet new structural mandates such as operating room sizes.

“Opponents apparently have been unable to convince the electorate that this is an unwarranted backdoor way to stop abortions,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

The more stringent regulations found support across every political, demographic and geographic grouping. Even among respondents who identified themselves as Democrats, a plurality — 47 percent — approved while 34 percent disapproved.

However, only one-fourth of those surveyed had read or heard of the new regulations. Pollsters included a lengthy explanation as part of a 91-word question. Among respondents who already knew about the issue, 51 percent supported the change and 41 percent did not.

McDonnell’s popularity hit a new high with 61 percent approving of his performance while 21 percent disapproved and 18 percent were undecided. That’s up from a 55 percent approval mark in Quinnipiac’s June survey, and it came after McDonnell managed back-to-back natural disasters in Virginia — an Aug. 23 earthquake centered in Mineral that rattled much of the East Coast, and Hurricane Irene four days later.

When asked specifically about the conservative governor’s policies, 52 percent approved and 26 percent disapproved while 22 percent didn’t know or wouldn’t say. Fifty-three percent said they approve of McDonnell’s handling of the state budget, 29 percent disapproved, and 18 percent didn’t know.

Democratic Sen. Mark R. Warner’s job approval was even higher — 64 percent, up from 57 percent in June. Twenty-two percent disapproved of Warner’s work and 18 percent were undecided or didn’t reply.

Fifty-one percent approved of Sen. Jim Webb’s performance. Webb, a Democrat, won’t seek a second term next year.

Neither Lt. Gov Bill Bolling nor Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli mustered a majority for job approval. Thirty-nine percent approved of Bolling to 15 percent who disapproved and 45 percent who didn’t know. For Cuccinelli, 47 percent approved, 29 percent disapproved and 24 percent didn’t know. Bolling’s numbers were unchanged from the June survey while Cuccinelli’s declined from 49 percent.

Only 48 percent approved of the legislature’s performance while 34 percent disapproved and 18 percent didn’t know or didn’t answer. The House is under Republican control while Democrats hold a slim Senate majority, and the poll suggests plenty of Virginians like it that way.

After pollsters explained the General Assembly’s partisan split, respondents were asked if they want Democrats or the Republicans to control both chambers after November’s legislative elections. Twenty-five percent wanted an all-Democratic legislature, 25 percent wanted an all-Republican one, and 43 percent said they like a divided legislature.

Sixty-eight percent said they were satisfied with the way things are going in Virginia today while 31 percent were dissatisfied and 1 percent didn’t know. Those results are unchanged from June’s poll.