Washington Post Poll

Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Polling Department
Monday, October 15, 2007; 12:00 PM

Washington Post polling director Jon Cohen and polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta were online Monday, Oct. 15 at noon ET to discuss the findings of the latest round of Washington Post polling.

The transcript follows.


Jon Cohen: Good afternoon, thanks to all for joining us to chat all things Virginia. Questions are rolling in, so we'll get going.


Chesterfield, Va.: What do you do to ensure that your poll respondents best reflect the actual likely voters? For statewide races, do you obtain responses from every county and city in Virginia? Is your polling done entirely by phone? If you get disproportionately higher response rates in certain localities, do you put additional effort into getting responses in localities with lower response rates?

Jon Cohen: hello Chesterfield, thanks for the question. All Post polls are conducted by telephone, among random samples of Virginia adults from every part of the state. Yes, response rates can vary by locality, so we stratify our sample by six regions in VA to ensure the proper spread. We determine respondents to be "likely voters" by the way they answer certain questions (e.g., how closely they're tuned in to the upcoming election), not on where they're from.


Arlington, Va.: I'd like to be the first to thank the Virginia GOP for going with a convention instead of a primary, which virtually insures that Jim Gilmore will be the Republican nominee. Of course, this also means that Mark Warner will be replacing John Warner. Democrats in northern Virginia may have been persuaded to vote for Tom Davis because of his lack of being beholden to the lunatic fringe, but there is no way northern Virginia voters will support someone who contributed to the destruction of Virginia Department of Transportation and cut education funds. So, Virginia GOP, please export your "winning ideas" to other purple states, so they will all become more blue.

Jon Cohen: In our poll data released Friday, Mark Warner has big leads over both Gilmore and Davis. But the election is 13 months away .. . a lifetime in politics. What do other people think?

As Arlington notes, on Saturday the state GOP opted for a nominating convention instead of statewide primary (reported here by Tim Craig and Jennifer Agiesta).


Arlington, Va.: Is James Gilmore well-liked enough among the electorate to win a general election?

Jennifer Agiesta: Thanks for your question, Arlington. The former governor is overall pretty well-liked, forty percent say they have a favorable opinion while 32 percent say unfavorable. But among the commonwealth's crucial independents, opinions on Gilmore are divided: 39 percent say favorable, 38 percent unfavorable. The governor's biggest hurdle may be upping his name recognition: 28 percent of all Virginia adults and 23 percent of independents don't know enough about him to express an opinion.

Back in 1997 on the eve of his gubernatorial victory, 60 percent of adults viewed him favorably, including 54 percent of independents. Perhaps his return to the Virginia spotlight will remind voters of the governor who was elected with such high positives and left office with a 62 percent approval rating.


New Hampshire: Hi Jon and Jennifer! Which 2008 presidential hopefuls would you expect to outperform the pre-election polls? Ron Paul, like Pat Buchanan in 1996, probably will beat his current low-single-digit numbers here in New Hampshire, but which Democrats are likely to be the next comeback kid? Of course, both races are subject to an upset because 40 percent of the state can vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary.

Jon Cohen: Ah, if we were in the forecasting business, we'd be in Vegas. Our polls are designed to measure opinions as they are today; they're not crystal balls. That said, this race is certainly fascinating to watch, and any number of candidates has the potential to surprise as the first voting approaches.


Palm Harbor, Fla. -- Previously of Northern Virginia: Polling is subject to the way that a question is framed and asked. Why is The Washington Post always able to get the results they want and not the real truths? Could it be that you ask leading questions?

Jon Cohen: Thanks for the question. Yes, in many instances polls depend on framing and question wording. That's why we always publish our questionnaires in full (here's what we've put out on VA so far). These are the questions we asked, in the exact order we asked them. Which of these do you find (mis)leading?


Arlington, Va.: Republicans in Virginia quietly have started spreading the idea that Hillary Clinton might drag down Mark Warner in 2008, should Clinton be the Dem nominee. I'm skeptical, in part because I think Warner's popularity goes beyond anything Clinton would or would not bring, but on a different level is there a chance that Warner might actually lift up the Dem presidential nominee? I'd think that there's a shot he could help carry that Dem to victory in Virginia, which has to make Republicans nervous (hence the pre-emptive "dragging Warner down" storyline).

Jennifer Agiesta: Anything's possible with more than a year of campaigning to go, but the poll doesn't seem to indicate that Clinton would drag down Warner or vice versa.

More than three-quarters of Warner's supporters would prefer the next president to be a Democrat, and about nine in 10 of those who want to see a Democrat in the White House would support Warner.

About a quarter of Warner backers have ruled out voting for Sen. Clinton, which is about the same as for Edwards or Obama.


Vienna, Va.: The most interesting aspect of this poll is the potential impact of illegal immigration on the upcoming elections, with 60 percent of respondents indicating that they would likely vote for a candidate who supports strong action against illegal immigrants. Why is this given such muted treatment at the end of the article?

Jon Cohen: That is a very interesting finding. Moreover as we reported immigration ranks highly as the state's most important, or second-most important issue. The percentage spikes in Northern Virginia, where 31 percent of likely voters called immigration the single most important, or next most important concern. (It was 11 percent elsewhere.) We'll have much more on immigration from the poll soon.


Cleveland: What do you think about the recent Zogby poll showing 41 percent of the Republicans believe Condi Rice brings excitement to the 2008 race? Does that high number suggest she still could enter the race for president, or is it more likely she will be seen as the strongest choice for vice president on the GOP ticket?

Jennifer Agiesta: Hi Cleveland, I haven't seen the Zogby poll, so can't really give an assessment on that. However, our own polling back in February shows that Condoleezza Rice is one of the most well-liked of high-profile Republicans these days. At the time, she earned a 58 percent approval rating for the job she was doing as Secretary of State.

By contrast, President Bush's approval rating in our latest national poll was 33 percent, Fox News's recent take on Cheney had him at 34 percent approval, and in August, Gallup found a 26 percent approval rating for Karl Rove.

Of course, all pale in comparison to Laura Bush. CNN checked on Americans' opinions of her in December and found a 76 percent approval rating.


Arlington, Va.: After losing the 2001 and 2005 Virginia gubernatorial races and the 2006 U.S. Senate race, why would the Virginia GOP opt for a convention over a primary? It's not really about the cost difference. It's got to be because the Virginia GOP fears losing its grip on power and is digging in its heels, even if it means that they will end up with a worse chance of holding onto the other U.S. Senate seat. After all, all Mark Warner has to do against Gilmore is say that the reason he raised taxes was to clean up the Gilmore's mess. Slam dunk.

Jon Cohen: You're right, many in the state GOP certainly must feel back on their heels after these previous statewide elections. And the new poll might add to their concern: likely voters, by a slight edge, would prefer the Democrats to take over the General Assembly after the Nov. 6 elections. But GOP prospects aren't necessarily related to their choice of nominating processes. If such a primary were held today, the Post poll shows Gilmore with a nearly 20-point advantage over Davis.


Chantilly, Va.: I agree with Arlington -- Gilmore vs. M. Warner will go to Warner by double digits. People who were in Virginia when Gilmore was governor remember what a shambles he left the state's finances in; people who moved here after that just know that he is some clown who made a laughable run at the GOP presidential nomination. Warner will crush Gilmore by record numbers in Northern Virginia and win easily.

Jon Cohen: True Gilmore's presidential run this year never really got off the ground, but as Jennifer pointed out, he did leave office in 2001 with high marks. In our October 2001 poll, 62 percent of likely voters thought he was doing a good job as governor.


Princeton, N.J.: Jon, have you ever thought of asking questions that explore how much xenophobia is behind the hatred for "illegals"? For example, you could ask if most of the people one sees in emergency rooms are illegals. Given that one has no way of knowing who is illegal, the people who answer "yes" are assuming all Hispanics are illegal and display bias.

Jon Cohen: We've thought a lot about this, and constantly look for new ways to explore this complex issue. There are some strongly held opinions about immigrants/immigration, but there is also a fair amount of ambivalence. Thanks for your suggestion.

Our polling partners at ABC did a poll this month about attitudes toward Hispanics. In their data, the percentage of Americans reporting prejudice against Latinos is lower than it is about "race," Arabs and Muslims and overweight people. They also report that two-thirds are not bothered by Spanish speakers. More here.


Arlington, Va.: How has the proliferation of cell phones affected your poll? For example, my roommate and I use our cell phones only and both phones are "out of state" phones. Thus your sample may not be very good.

Jon Cohen: Fair question. This is a big topic for another day and a longer discussion. We posted a note on this a couple of week's ago on The Trail and Mark Blumenthal over at has several detailed posts on the subject.


Palm Harbor, Fla. -- Previously Northern Virginia: I think that your questions are biased in as much as one of the questions ask about the intent to vote and almost all said they would or would most likely vote. Give me a break, the voting history of Virginia as well as the rest of the country almost never exceeds 50 percent. So I can only assume -- and I know what that word implies, that the poll is rigged. It is not made up real people.

Jon Cohen: We ask that question as part of the likely voter screen, but we consider more than this single answer. Our screen this time yielded a likely turnout of well under 50 percent. Others?


Arlington, Va.: How are things looking for the state elections? Any chance the next legislature that will repeal the ridiculous "abuser fees"?

Jennifer Agiesta: Likely voters are pretty divided on the legislative elections this year (50 percent say they'd like to see Democrats in control after Nov. 6 while 42 percent want Republicans to retain their majorities), and abusive driver fees could be a key factor in those contests.

Two-thirds of likely voters oppose the abusive driver fees and 56 percent say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who supports the fees. Among the likely voters who oppose the fees, 43 percent say it is because they don't apply to out of state drivers while 27 percent say they are just too high.


Jennifer Agiesta: Time for us to wrap up. Thanks very much for all of your questions today. Be sure to check out all of our polling at and more polling analysis on Behind the Numbers.


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