Republican George Allen has opened an eight-point lead (45%-37%) on Democrat Tim Kaine in a likely November matchup for the U.S. Senate seat from Virginia according to The Roanoke College Poll. Virginians are somewhat more positive about the situation in the country, but they are not enamored with any of the Republican Presidential candidates. In potential Presidential election scenarios, President Obama leads all Republican candidates except Mitt Romney, with whom he is statistically tied.
The Roanoke College Poll interviewed 607 residents of Virginia between February 13 and February 26. The Poll has a margin of error of +4 percent. Another Roanoke College Poll of likely voters in the March 6 Super Tuesday Virginia Republican primary will be released later this week.
Allen vs. Kaine
Allen holds an 8-point lead over Kaine, up from a three-point margin in September 2011. That current margin is unchanged when looking only at registered voters. Allen leads among political Independents (43%-38%), but he trails Kaine among ideological moderates (50%-33%). Allen benefits from the much greater percentage of self-identified conservatives in Virginia as compared to the smaller number of liberals. There is also a gender gap with the potential candidates tied among women (40%-40%), but Allen leads among men (49%-33%).
Views of Virginia and the U.S.
Virginians are somewhat more optimistic about the direction of the country compared to September (25% think the United States is on the right track compared to 15% in September), but two-thirds (67%) still think the country is headed in the wrong direction. Perceptions of the Commonwealth are more optimistic than the U.S., but Virginia perception is largely unchanged from September (47% right direction and 40% wrong track, compared to 49% and 42% in September).
Republican Presidential Candidates Ratings
All of the remaining Republican Presidential candidates fared poorly in terms of the publics impression of them. Rick Santorum was the best with 35% favorable and 47% unfavorable, followed by Mitt Romney (28% and 47%), Ron Paul (26% and 54%), and Newt Gingrich (21% and 64%). President Obama’s ratings were 44% and 44%, while Governor McDonnell’s were 57% and 26%.
In potential November matchups, President Obama is statistically tied with Mitt Romney (42%-43%), but leads Rick Santorum (45%-39%), Ron Paul (45%-35%), and Newt Gingrich (48%-37%). In September 2011, Romney led Obama by 8 percent. Screening for registered voters increases Romneys margin to 3 percent, still within the margin of error, and impacts other matchups by no more than 1 percent.
Economic Issues Dominate
While social issues have become more prominent in the Republican primaries and caucuses, Virginians are still focused on the economy. When asked the most important problem facing the country today, the top three issues were the economy in general (43%), unemployment (24%), and the budget deficit (9%). All other issues combined comprised only 24 percent of responses, with none exceeding 4 percent. 23 percent of Virginians are most likely to blame former President George W. Bush for current economic conditions while 22 percent blame financial institutions and 19 percent blame President Obama. The blame percentages show a slight increase for Obama and slight decreases for Bush and banks since September. On a related issue, those disagreeing with the Tea Party movement now outnumber supporters 48%-38%, a margin slightly greater than last Septembers (37%-29%).
Elected Officials Approval Ratings
President Obama’s approval rating is up slightly, though statistically unchanged (41% in February vs. 39% in September), while Governor Bob McDonnell’s approval is down (60% vs. 67%) as is approval of Senator Mark Warner (62% vs. 67%). Approval of Congress remains both unchanged and dismal at 11 percent.
President Obama’s numbers have improved along with views of the national economy, although both remain weak, said Harry Wilson, director of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research. The continuous bashing of Republican candidates by other Republican candidates appears to have resulted in low approval ratings of all them. They continue to emphasize social issues on the campaign trail, while Virginians remain more focused on the economy.
The likely Allen/Kaine race still has many undecided voters, and most polls continue to show it to be a close race, Wilson said. These results should be good news for Allen, but it is a long time between now and November.
Interviewing for The Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College in Salem between February 13 and February 26, 2012. A total of 607 Virginia residents were interviewed. Questions answered by the entire sample are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4 percent at the 95 percent level of confidence.
A copy of the questionnaire and all frequencies may be found on the Roanoke College web site.