A new Commonwealth Poll from Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs indicates that a large majority of Virginians believes better mental health services would help in the prevention of gun violence.
A majority of respondents, 79 percent, said that better mental health screening and treatment would help prevent gun violence, with 43 percent saying it would help a lot.
“Overall, Virginians think that our current mental health system is underfunded and better services would help in the prevention of gun violence,” said Farrah Stone Graham, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Wilder School and director of the survey. “Also, willingness to pay for mental health programs is strong and has increased over the past three years.”
There were differences in opinion regarding how much help mental health services could provide. Respondents with a family income of less than $50,000 per year were more likely to think that better services would help a lot, with 53 percent providing that answer. Party identification also played a role, with Democrats being more likely to say better services would help a lot — 49 percent — compared with Independents and Republicans, at 38 percent and 36 percent respectively. Respondents in the south central region were significantly more likely to think better services would help a lot, with 56 percent providing that answer.
A majority of Virginians believes our mental health system is underfunded. Fifty-four percent of respondents indicated that funding for mental health services is too little, while 29 percent said it was about right and only 3 percent said it was too much. Respondents in the south central and northwest regions were more likely to say funding was too little (66 percent and 63 percent) compared with Northern Virginia (50 percent), Tidewater (49 percent) and the western region (47 percent). Those with at least a college degree were more likely to say funding was too little, with 63 percent, compared with those with some college experience (53 percent) and those with at most a high school diploma (45 percent). Democrats were also more likely to think funding was too little (60 percent), compared with Republicans (49 percent) and Independents (47 percent).
Respondents were also asked about their willingness to pay more in taxes for a number of government programs. Almost seven-in-10 (69 percent) were willing to pay more in taxes in order to keep mental health services going. Only public schools had a slightly higher percentage with 70 percent. It is important to note that mental health has increased as a priority over time. Since 2010, the percentage of Virginians who are willing to pay more in taxes for mental health services has increased by 9 percent.
Again, there were differences of opinion based on region, education level and party identification. While all regions had strong majorities, respondents in the northwest and Northern Virginia were more likely to be willing to pay more in taxes (76 percent and 74 percent), than those in the west (68 percent), south central (64 percent) and Tidewater (64 percent). Likewise, those with at least a college degree were more likely (76 percent) than those with some college experience (66 percent) or at most a high school diploma (65 percent).
These findings are part of a statewide survey conducted by the Wilder School by landline and cell telephone from Dec. 27, 2013, to Jan. 3, 2014, with a random sample of 803 adults in Virginia. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
For a PDF of the 11-page report including complete question wording and detailed tables of results seehttp://www.CommonwealthPoll.vcu.edu/poll_data.htm.