- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A majority of Virginia voters think a federal jury in Richmond got it right when they convicted former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife on public corruption charges last week, and they think it’s time legislators stiffened the state’s ethics laws, a new poll says.

A survey released Tuesday by the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University said 68 percent of respondents agreed with the verdict while 12 percent disagreed and 16 percent were not certain. Those who agreed with the verdict comprised majorities across demographics that included men, women, Democrats, Republicans, independents and voters from across every region of the state.

The poll, of 819 registered Virginia voters, was conducted Sept. 2-7 and featured some questions asked of respondents before the verdict was delivered and some asked afterward.

In the days before McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were found guilty, just 29 percent said they should be convicted while 18 percent though they should be found not guilty. Fifty-four percent were uncertain.

But at the same time, 66 percent thought the McDonnells had done something wrong, with just 19 percent thinking they had not — figures that correspond closely to the percentages of respondents who ultimately agreed with the jury’s decision.

The figures highlight one of the key contradictions of the case: that, despite being convicted of federal corruption charges, the McDonnells did not break any of Virginia’s lax laws against politicians accepting gifts when they took more than $170,000 in high-dollar items and loans from wealthy businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. as part of a deal by which they would use government resources to promote his products.

A majority, at 64 percent, that again spanned demographics said they thought the trial was “mostly fair” compared to 11 percent who said it was “mostly unfair.” Among Democrats, 74 percent said they thought it was fair compared to 53 percent of Republicans.

The poll also showed that most Virginians, 55 percent, want the state to pass stricter ethics rules for elected officials while 31 percent say the current laws are OK. That figure includes 64 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans. And while 59 percent around the area of Richmond, the state capital, support stiffer rules, 49 percent in the increasingly Democratic, voter-rich D.C. suburbs of Northern Virginia agree.

“In its totality, this poll demonstrates public dismay with the behavior of former governor McDonnell and his wife,” said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center. “It also shows the public is satisfied that the trial was fair and the verdict was fair. But most importantly for lawmakers as we go forward, it shows that the public strongly wants stricter ethics rules for public officials.”

The poll as a whole had a margin of error of 3.4 percent, while the rate was 5.7 percent for the questions asked prior to the verdict and 4.2 percent for the questions asked afterward.

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