Against all five potential GOP contenders tested in the poll, Obama stretched his margins after the death of bin Laden. In a hypothetical matchup against former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, for example, interviews before the bin Laden announcement showed voters splitting 48 percent for the president and 46 percent for Romney. Afterward, Obama edged ahead, 51 to 44 percent.
Against former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and businessman Donald Trump, twin 19-point Obama advantages swelled to 31 points in interviews conducted in the three days after bin Laden’s death.
Still, big vulnerabilities remain for the president, the first Democratic presidential nominee to win Virginia in more than 40 years. More than half of all Virginia voters are dissatisfied, even angry, with the Obama administration’s policies, and a vast majority retains a bleak view of the economy. Those opinions did not change with bin Laden’s death, leaving open the question of whether, or how long, the spike in Obama’s fortunes will last.
The poll reveals the movability of voters in Virginia, which firmly established itself as a new battleground in 2008. Two years later, in the tea-party-infused, low-turnout elections of 2010, Virginia swung in the opposite direction, ousting three of the state’s six Democratic congressmen.
The question heading into next year’s presidential election is whether the electorate will look more like the one that voted for Obama in 2008 or the one that showed up in 2010. The Post poll shows that the coalition of voters who turned out for Obama in 2008 is willing, at least in the wake of the bin Laden announcement, to consider doing so again.
“It reaffirmed my decision to vote for him in the first place,” said Kim Bentley, 29, a technology worker from Virginia Beach who is registered as an independent and leans Republican.
Even people who voted against Obama — and are likely to do so again — said they view him in a more favorable light now.
“Ever since Osama got killed, his speeches have been very authoritative,” said Michael Moran, 25, a truck driver from Virginia Beach who typically votes Republican. “I’ve seen a lot more power coming from the office in the last few days. . . . Like or hate his policies, you have to respect him. He’s incredibly intelligent and a strong leader and at times can bring the country together.”
Obama built a coalition of young, urban-dwelling and minority voters that propelled him to victory in 2008, and few places exemplify that better than Virginia. A complex, growing state with a large African American population and an exploding Latino presence, Virginia combines the conservatism and economic pessimism of rural America with the independent-mindedness of swing voters of military-heavy exurbs and the more progressive priorities of the affluent and highly educated Washington suburbs.