A majority of black Virginians believe embattled Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D), who has been engulfed in a blackface controversy, should remain in office, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll that was released on Saturday evening.
The poll, which was conducted Wednesday through Friday and has a margin of error +/- 4.5 percentage points (higher for subgroups), found that 58% of black Virginians think Northam should remain in office compared to 37% who want him to resign. Overall, Virginians—and white Virginians—were split—with 47% saying Northam should resign and 47% believing he should remain in office.
After a photo of someone in blackface and another person in a KKK hood on Northam’s medical school yearbook page made national headlines, Northam first apologized for being one of the people in the photo before denying the next day that he was in the racist photo.
Northam also revealed that he put on blackface to look like Michael Jackson for a dance contest during the same time period, and an overwhelming number of Virginians did not believe his explanation.
The poll found that 73% did not believe Northam’s explanation while just 20% did. In addition, the Post noted that “Northam’s 43 percent approval rating is the lowest of any Virginia governor in a Post poll since 1997.”
Nearly every prominent Democrat immediately called for Northam to resign, but Northam has stayed on as governor as his lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax (D), has had two women accuse him of sexual assault while the state’s attorney general, Mark Herring (D), also admitted that he put on blackface in college to look like a rapper.
Northam, despite his low approval rating, reportedly told his Cabinet on Friday evening that he does not plan to resign and revealed on Saturday that he is planning a “reconciliation tour” across the state to, according to the Post, “engage in conversations about race and healing.”
“It’s obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do. There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity,” he told the Post. “There are ongoing inequities to access to things like education, health care, mortgages, capital, entrepreneurship. And so this has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia. It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes.”
Northam said the first thing on his “reconciliation” agenda will be to ensure that his Cabinet and all of the state’s agencies engage in “sensitivity training” on race and white privilege.
“First of all what I plan to do . . . is to make sure that we have sensitivity training — in our Cabinet, in our agencies,” Northam reportedly said. “I also plan to reach out to our colleges and universities and talk about sensitivity training. Even into the K through 12 age range, that’s very important.”