New poll finds strong support for Democrats in state races

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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- A new poll of more than 725 active, registered voters in Virginia has found strong support for Democrats over Republicans, especially when it comes to who voters want to control the General Assembly.

This is the first of three surveys the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University will be conducting on the upcoming state legislative elections in Virginia.

The center reports the data suggests that Democrats are maintaining a significant Trump Era enthusiasm advantage.
According to a release, Virginia Democrats and left-leaning Independents have been more politically engaged since the 2016 presidential election than they were during the Obama administration.

This has led to growing demographic advantages in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, and the Richmond metro area, which has been turned into political gains.

Such gains include picking up 15 House of Delegates seats in the 2017 elections, sweeping the top state offices, and flipping three Republican-held seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections.

The release says both of these elections were also marked by increases in voter turnout that benefitted Democrats.

In 2017, the voter turnout increase was described as “modest,” going up to 47.6 percent in 2017 from 43 percent in 2013.

However, in 2018, 59.5 percent of registered voters cast ballots compared to just 41.6 percent in 2014.

The Wason Center says election watchers are trying to reconcile two powerful trends: strong turnout of Democrats in the Trump Era and long-established low turnout of the off-off cycle during which there are no statewide races that would normally attract voters.

The center says off-off year low turnout has favored Republicans in the past, like it did in 2015 before President Donald Trump was elected.

The release says that even if the turnout if low this year, the electorate will have more in common with the elections of 2017 and 2018 in terms of demographics as well as partisan composition than with the electorate of 2015.

On top of the more energized electorate, there is the court-ordered redistricting that has created more Democrat-leaning districts in the House of Delegates.

The Wason Center says this suggests that Democrats are “well-positioned to pick up the seats they need to take control of both chambers of the General Assembly.”

Democrats have not controlled the state Senate since the beginning of this decade, and they have not controlled the House since 2000.

Should the Democrats win control of both chambers of the state legislature, Democrats will control the entire state government and will be in charge of the reapportionment and redistricting process in 2021.

The release specifically states that low-turnout elections are decided as much by voters who do not cast ballots as by those who do, so predicting the outcomes of this election is not easy.

In order to try to cast light on the potential outcomes, the Wason Center says it will not be polling individual races due to the relatively small geographic areas of the legislative districts. Instead is will combine several competitive races into one House survey and one Senate survey.

Overall, 55 percent of respondents said they are very enthusiastic about voting in the upcoming general election, with 62 percent of Democrats saying that compared to 49 percent of Republicans and 49 percent of Independents.

The survey also found that 78 percent of overall surveyed voters say they will definitely vote in November.

When asked about choosing either the Republican or the Democrat on a “generic ballot,” Democrats hold a 13-point advantage and voters expressed a strong preference for Democrats to take control of the General Assembly.

“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 Dr. Rachel Bitecofer, the Wason Center's elections analyst.

The survey also asked about the impact of candidate positions on various state and national issues, finding the positions of voters are more closely aligned with positions advocated by Democratic Party candidates, which may partly explain the advantages Democrats hold on the generic ballot and control questions.

“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.”

The release says 83 percent of those polled support expanding background checks, and 67 percent would be more likely to support a candidate who supports banning “assault weapons.”

It is also noted that 19 percent said a candidate's support for such a ban would make them less likely to support that person.

Other issues include a $15 federal minimum wage, which 66 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to support a candidate who supports it.

It also found 73 percent would support a candidate who advocates for more spending on transportation infrastructure and 68 percent would support a candidate who supports expanding Medicaid.

The survey also found 76 percent of voters would support a candidate who supports ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.

Regarding limiting legal immigration, 36 percent of likely voters said a candidate's support for this position would make them more likely to support that candidate while 55 percent said it would make them less likely to select that candidate.

The so-called Medicare for All issues is one of national attention, but it polls poorly among Virginia voters, event those who have expressed support for other liberal policies.
The release says likely voters are more receptive to a candidate who supports free public college tuition at 51 percent.

Meanwhile, just 25 percent of likely voters said they would be more likely to support a candidate who wanted to ban abortions in all cases except when the mother's health is in danger, which would be similar to laws that have recently passed in Alabama, Ohio and Georgia.

Regarding the impeachment of Trump, the survey asked voters about a candidate's support for Trump or their support for impeachment.

Of respondents, 59 percent said there would be less likely to vote for a state legislative candidate who supports Trump, and 49 percent said they were more likely vote for one who supports impeachment.

However, the Wason Center says the survey was taking place as the Ukraine issue emerged, between Sept. 4 and 30.

The center says though it did see a change in preferences from voters from before the release of the transcript of the phone call between Trump and the president of Ukraine, it will not currently be reporting on those changes because of concerns about statistical noise.

These questions will be included on the next two surveys the center will conduct.

When asked about the Mueller Report into Russian interference during the 2016 presidential election, just six percent of respondents reported have read the entire report while 27 percent said they had read excerpts from it, and 43 percent said they had watched media coverage about the report.

When looking at this data limited to voters who said there are highly likely to vote on Nov. 5, the direct exposure numbers did not change much, and in taking that six percent as a hard number suggests to researchers that the overall percent of the population that has read the Mueller Report is likely much lower.

Regarding the race for the White House in 2020, Trump currently trails a “generic” Democratic opponent by 15 points, but again most of the survey's data predate the Ukraine and impeachment issues.

Overall, the survey found 51 percent of polled voters would select an unnamed Democrat while 36 percent said they would vote for Trump. Another six percent each would select a third-party candidate or have not decided for whom they will vote.

The Wason Center also found just 28 percent of voters said they will definitely vote for Trump and 42 percent said they will definitely vote for a Democrat.

Along with statewide election results in recent election cycles, this data suggests Virginia will not remain as a “swing state” in the 2020 cycle.

To read the full break down of the survey, click on the link in the Related Links box.

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