Black Virginians said by a wide margin that Gov. Ralph Northam, who is enduring controversy over a racist photo from his 1984 yearbook, should remain in office, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll published Saturday.
According to the poll, which was conducted between Wednesday and Friday, just 37% of African-Americans think he should step down, whereas 58% think he shouldn’t resign.
Virginians overall were evenly split on the question, with 47% responding that Northam should step down and 47% saying he shouldn’t. Meanwhile, just 40% of Democrats said Northam should resign, while 56% of Republicans and 47% of independents said the same.
The poll had 706 total respondents and a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points, which was larger among subgroups.
Though he has faced widespread calls to resign, including from top Democrats in Virginia and across the country, Northam said in a Washington Post interview published Saturday that he intends to finish out the remaining three years of his term and pursue an agenda of racial equity.
Northam has insisted that he was not in the recently resurfaced photo on his 1984 yearbook page, which featured a person in blackface and a person in a Ku Klux Klan-style hood.
In a press conference last Saturday, Northam denied that he was in the photo but conceded that he had worn blackface on a separate occasion as part of a Michael Jackson costume at a talent show in San Antonio, Texas.
“The things that I did back in medical school and — and — in San Antonio were insensitive and I have learned since that they were very offensive,” Northam told The Post. “We learn from our mistakes and I’m a stronger person.”
Northam told the newspaper he was particularly moved by a discussion he had with a black lawmaker, who taught him about the racist history of minstrel shows, where white actors dressed in blackface “and exaggerated their characteristics and mannerisms.”
He continued: “And the main point that this person told me is that at the end of the day, the white person — just as I was the white person that dressed up as an African American dancer — at the end of the day we can take that makeup off and go back to being white,” whereas a black person cannot.
Northam told The Post he intended to first ensure that his Cabinet and government agencies receive sensitivity training, and that he intended to reach out to schools, colleges, and universities to discuss sensitivity training for students as well.