Even a Flawed Washington Post Poll Confirms: Virginia's a Red State

Posted: May 10, 2011 11:46 AM
Barack Obama won the Commonwealth of Virginia by six points in 2008, prompting speculation that Virginia was trending blue.  One year later, Virginians re-painted the state deep crimson, electing a tidal wave of conservative Republicans to local and statewide offices.  The state's red resurgence continued unabated in 2010, with Republicans picking off three incumbent Congressional Democrats.  One of the great mysteries of the next cycle is discerning which of the previous election(s) -- 2008 or 2009/10 -- will be predictive of the 2012 turnout and results.  The Washington Post offers a batch of new polling that may provide some early clues.  There's also a glaring flaw with WaPo's numbers, which I'll address after reviewing the results themselves. 

First, Governor Bob McDonnell, a solid conservative, enjoys strong approval across the entire state -- even attracting surprisingly high support from Democrats:

62 percent — approve of the way Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is handling his job, while 26 percent disapprove. McDonnell, 56, the state’s first Republican governor in eight years, took office last year in the aftermath of the worst recession since the Great Depression. 

McDonnell remains popular in all regions of the state, with a 53 percent approval rating in the close-in Washington suburbs, including Arlington and Fairfax counties. In the outer suburbs — including fast-growing Loudoun and Prince William counties — 61 percent say they approve of the way he is doing his job as governor.

The governor gets overwhelmingly positive ratings from his fellow Republicans (82 percent approve) and also scores well among independents (63 percent approve). Even among Democrats, more approve than disapprove of the job he’s doing, 50 percent to 36 percent.

McDonnell's majority approval rating in Arlington and Fairfax counties, regarded as Virginia's most liberal enclaves, is especially impressive.  Considering the fairly overwhelming popularity of the Republican Governor, one might suspect that likely GOP Senate nominee, George Allen, would have a sizable lead over his soon-to-be opponent, Tim Kaine.  Not so fast, the Washington Post poll reports:

George Allen and Timothy M. Kaine are locked in a dead heat 18 months from Election Day, according to a new Washington Post poll, suggesting that the U.S. Senate race between theVirginia titans may live up to its billing as one of the most competitive contests in the nation.

The candidates are tied at 46 percent among registered voters in the battle to succeed retiring Sen. James Webb (D).Neither Allen (R) nor Kaine (D) is guaranteed his party’s nomination,but the survey shows that both men enjoy huge leads over potential intraparty opponents.

Few observers are expecting Allen to win this race in a cake walk, but some may be a little surprised that the race is a dead heat -- even at this early stage.  That's where the caveat comes in:  A Virginia Republican operative calls the survey's sample "absurd."  He's right.  Behold: 31D - 22R - 36I / with leaners, 48D - 39R.  In both cases, Democrats hold a +9 party ID edge.  Remember, Barack Obama won Virginia by six points in 2008 -- the best Democratic year in recent memory -- and considering the electoral punishment Old Dominion State voters have visited upon Democrats in two successive cycles, manufacturing a +9 advantage for Democrats in this poll really strains credulity.  If the sample weren't so slanted, Gov. McDonnell would surge from very popular to wildly popular, and it's not hard to imagine Sen. George Allen holding at least a mid-single-digit lead over Gov. Kaine.

UPDATE - Surprise, surprise:  The Washington Post's final pre-election 2009 survey badly underestimated McDonnell's margin of victory.  It's also worth noting the paper's weeks-long campaign to discredit candidate McDonnell over a decades-old college thesis.