Due to our natural traditionalism and a large military population, Virginia has long trended conservative politically. For over 100 years from before the Civil War until the 1960s, the Old Dominion was part of the Democrats’ “Solid South.” Then, as the Democrat Party moved leftward, Virginia and most of the rest of the South gradually moved into the GOP column.
In fact, after Democrat Lyndon Johnson carried Virginia and won the presidency in a landslide in 1964, the Commonwealth voted for a Republican for president every four years until Obama’s win in 2008. Obama took VA again in 2012, then Hillary Clinton (with running made Tim Kaine) in 2016 and Biden in 2020.
The four-time winning streak makes these recent polls all the more surprising.
As reported by 538 polling, a Dec. 28-Jan. 13 survey of Virginians from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) showed Biden 43 and Trump 40, so Biden +3. However, the methodology page explains, “The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is ±5.46 percentage points.”
In general, ±3 percentage points is a normal margin of error. So, since this poll has a 5.46 margin, Biden could be up as high as 8 points over Trump. On the other hand, Trump could be as high as 2 over Biden.
Moreover, a poll from Sept. 16-19, 2023 showed a Biden-Trump tie here in the Old Dominion, at 37% each. Notably, that poll was done by Future Majority (PAC), which is Democrat-funded.
Helping drive these Biden/Trump numbers is the increasing popularity of Governor Glenn Youngkin (R). The VCU polls indicate just over half (54%) of those surveyed approve of Gov. Youngkin’s job performance, including a 5% jump since the last poll in August 2023.
In contrast, a mere 37%, just over one-third of Virginians, approve of Pres. Biden’s job approval, while 54% disapprove.
With many states firmly in either the red of blue column, each presidential election comes down to a handful of “swing” states. This year, those are believed to include Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, and possibly a few others. Were Trump to pull an upset and take Virginia, some believe Biden’s re-election would be a near-mathematical impossibility.
Adding to the drama, the DC suburbs of Northern Virginia have long been growing in number and their leftward shift. However, in recent years many of those areas are experiencing their first-ever population exodus, which may signal fewer Democrat voters.
An additional wild card is an odd feature first noted in 2016. Trump tends to perform better in actual elections than he does in polls, and pundits are unsure as to why. Some speculate many Trump supporters refuse to answer polls because they are “leave me alone” types or maybe they think that liking Trump is “politically incorrect” so they presume the pollster doesn’t want to hear their answer.
Raising the stakes, Sen. Tim Kaine (D) is also running for another six-year term this year, so a strong Biden performance in Virginia may help him cross the finish line while a sinking Biden may pull Kaine down too. Currently, Dems control the US Senate with a mere 51-49 majority, so a mere two seats flipping would put that chamber under GOP control again.
Regardless, polls go up and down, and November is a long way off. As the saying goes, “the only poll that counts is how people vote at the polls in the actual election.”
The VCU fact sheet including more information about the polls, issues that Virginians most care about, the methodology, etc. can be found here.
You can learn more about margins of error and how they affect polling here.