For evidence, he said, look at the House of Delegates, “with the vast majority of pro-gun Republicans in there, and see how the elections have gone for them.”
On abortion, public opinion appears to remain firmly on the side of having the procedure be legal in most or all cases. A majority of Virginians, 55 percent, in the new survey say abortion should be legal, while 42 percent say it should be illegal in most or all cases. The partisan divide on that question also remains clear: 69 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents say it should be legal, while 39 percent of Republicans say the same.
A similar split emerges on immigration. Most Republicans in the state oppose a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants living in the United States, but a narrow majority of independents and a big majority of Democrats support the idea.
The Post poll has warning signs for the Democratic Party as well.
The party has lost significant ground among Virginians in recent years. A bare 51 percent majority of registered voters have a favorable impression of the state party, down from 64 percent in 2007 when Timothy M. Kaine (D) was governor. Still fewer, 46 percent, rate the Republican Party favorably, though the gap between the parties has narrowed considerably.
Democrats’ effort to rally supporters around social issues and against Cuccinelli highlights a challenge for the party compared with 2012, when voters were enthusiastic about supporting President Obama at the top of the ticket. In this year’s gubernatorial race, by contrast, two-thirds of Democratic-leaning voters know little or nothing about McAuliffe and only 16 percent of his supporters are “very enthusiastic” about his candidacy.
Even if the state is decidedly in the center or to the left on some social issues, Virginians are wary of overreach from Washington, a key GOP theme. Some 56 percent of adults in the state say the federal government is “trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and private businesses,” while 38 percent say the government should do more to solve the country’s biggest problems.
Former lieutenant governor John H. Hager, who is attending the GOP convention as a delegate, said conservatives do not necessarily need to change their core values.
“We have to stand on our principles and believe in what we believe in,” Hager said. “I think it means . . . changing how those beliefs are communicated. Sell our message. We tend to concentrate on 10 percent of the issues and forget 90 percent because it doesn’t make for good media coverage.”
The Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone April 29 to May 2 among a random sample of 1,000 adults in Virginia, including 887 registered voters and users of both conventional and cellular phones. The results among registered voters have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.
Clement is a pollster with Capital Insight, Washington Post Media’s independent polling group. Jon Cohen, director of polling for Capital Insight, contributed to this report. Capital Insight pollster Peyton M. Craighill also contributed.