Voters Allow a Separation of Blame

By Tim Craig and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 15, 2007

Virginia residents' negative feelings toward the Bush administration and the national Republican Party have not tarnished state Republicans or broadly diminished their chances to keep control of the General Assembly after the Nov. 6 election.

Although Virginia residents say they strongly disapprove of the war in Iraq, more than half of the state's voters approve of the state Republican Party, and a sizable majority has confidence in the state government to make the right decisions for the future.

At the same time, Virginia's pivotal bloc of independents, particularly those in vote-rich Northern Virginia, holds the state Democratic Party in even higher regard than the state GOP. And independents, about 30 percent of the state's adult population, feel closer to the Democratic Party on health care, global warming and such divisive social issues as abortion and gay rights and are about evenly divided between the parties on the economy, traditionally a Republican strong point.

The findings stem from a poll conducted by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University. The survey paid particular attention to political independents, who will probably decide whether Democrats make inroads in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Virginia Democrats have been trying to capitalize on residents' frustrations with the Bush administration and federal issues as they try to pick up the four seats needed to retake the state Senate and some of the 11 seats needed to regain the House of Delegates.

In 2006, when war-weary voters handed Democrats control of Congress, the GOP lost more than 300 state legislative seats nationwide, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The mood in Virginia toward the war and the national Republican Party has darkened this year. In the Post-Kaiser-Harvard survey, just one in three independents in Virginia had a favorable impression of the Republican Party nationally, compared with 53 percent who felt that way about the national Democratic Party. The negative view of the national GOP stemmed largely from the war; six in 10 residents said it was not worth fighting.

But the survey suggests that Virginia voters are compartmentalizing their views about state and national politics and might not punish state GOP leaders for decisions made in Washington. Fifty-four percent of voters said they have a favorable impression of the Virginia Republican Party.

"I feel more comfortable with the state government. I feel the state is in better shape financially and we are progressing toward having better highways," said David Przybocki, 52, of Manassas. "With the federal government, how can you be comfortable with them? Everything is so secretive. . . . We went over to fight a bogus war."

Virginia Republicans might be benefiting from the General Assembly's decision this year to put aside years of infighting and approve a plan to raise more than $1 billion annually to build more highways and expand mass transit.

According to the survey, nearly six in 10 residents said it is "extremely" or "very" important that the state spend more on transportation. The survey was taken before July 1, when a series of steep "abusive driver" fees went into effect, which has led to complaints.

As they jockey with Democrats for support from independents, Republicans stand to gain from their party's traditional opposition to higher taxes. Republicans hold a 13-point advantage among independents when asked which party better represents their views on taxes.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company