Voters favor Democrats in this year’s General Assembly election and have a significant advantage over Republicans in voter enthusiasm, according to a poll released Oct. 7 by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.
The poll’s findings showed Democrats leading Republicans by 13 points among likely voters, 49% to 36%, with a notable advantage over Republicans on voter enthusiasm, 62% to 49%.
Further, 84% of Democrats say they will "definitely vote," compared with 74% of Republicans and 75% of independents.
The authors of the poll wrote that, “voter support for state legislative candidates reveals an electorate focused on both state and national issues,” that align more closely with positions advocated by Democratic Party candidates.
“It’s clear that national politics are on the minds of Virginia voters this fall,” said Wason Center Director Quentin Kidd. “Like or not, there’s no way for state legislative candidates to run in a vacuum -- their national party brands influence their fortunes.”
Since the 2016 presidential election, Virginia Democrats have picked up 15 seats in the House of Delegates and flipped three Republican-held seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The GOP currently holds a one-seat advantage in both the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates, with one seat vacant in both chambers.
The poll found that voters would rather Democrats control the General Assembly after this year’s election, 53% to 37%, powered by a 17-point advantage among independents.
“Given the significant interest and enthusiasm gaps measured in this survey, we expect some version of the Trump bump to manifest in the 2019 Virginia state legislative elections,” said Rachel Bitecofer, the study’s author and the Wason Center’s elections analyst.
Voters are more likely to vote for candidates advocating gun control than those who do not, the poll found, with 83% of likely voters in favor of expanding background checks and 67% of likely voters indicating they would be more likely to support a candidate who supports banning assault weapons.
In addition to gun control, several other issues were popular with voters:
- 66% of voters would be more likely to support a candidate who supports a $15 federal minimum wage
- 73% would be more likely to support a candidate who advocates more spending on transportation infrastructure
- 68% would be more likely to support a candidate who supports Medicaid expansion
- 76% would be more likely to support a candidate who supports ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment
The poll also showed that voters were less likely to support candidates who advocate limiting legal immigration into the country: 36% of likely voters said this position would make them more likely to support a candidate, 55% said it would make them less likely, and 36% much less likely.
“Medicare for All,” polled poorly among Virginia voters, even among voters who express robust support for other liberal policies. Just 36% of likely voters report that position would make them more likely to vote for a candidate, while 50% say it would make them less likely.
Likely voters are more receptive to a candidate running in support of free public college tuition, as 51% report that would make them more likely, compared with 43% who say it would make them less likely.
Just 25% of likely voters said they would be more likely to support a candidate who wanted to ban abortions except when the mother’s health is in danger. Such laws recently passed in Alabama, Ohio, and Georgia.
Some other key findings were that Governor Ralph Northam's (D) approval rate has risen to 51%, and voters are fairly optimistic about the state of the commonwealth. But voters are pessimistic about the state of the country, with 62% of voters reporting the country is on the "wrong track."
President Trump's approval rating in Virginia is at 37%. In Wason’s 2020 ballot test, he trails a generic Democrat, 51% to 36%. The data in the poll largely predates the Ukraine disclosures.
The results of the poll were based on 726 interviews of active, registered voters in Virginia including 238 on landline and 489 on cellphone, conducted Sept. 4 through Sept. 30. It’s the first of three surveys the Wason Center will conduct on the upcoming 2019 Virginia state legislative elections.