The GOP is defending slim majorities in the state Senate (20-19) and House of Delegates (51-48), with one vacancy in each chamber. All 140 seats are on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Voters sided with Democrats on a range of issues on the front burner in Richmond this year, including gun control, with 83 percent saying they would be more likely to support a candidate who favors requiring background checks for all gun purchases and 67 percent saying the same aboutbanning assault weapons.
Seventy-six percent said they would be more likely to vote for someone who supports ratifying the federal Equal Rights Amendment, while 66 percent said they would be inclined to back a candidate who supports a $15 minimum wage.
But the poll showed markedly little appetite for the “Medicare for All” healthcare plan embraced nationally by some leading Democratic 2020 presidential contenders. Fewer than 4 in 10, 36 percent, of likely voters said support for that plan would make them more likely to vote for a candidate, and 50 percent said it would turn them off.
Other national political factors – President Trump chief among them – seemed to be working against Republicans. Trump’s low marks in the survey – 37 percent approve of the job he’s doing -- has potential to spill over to state legislative candidates. Fifty-nine percent of voters said they would be less likely to vote for someone who supports the president, while 37 percent said they would be more likely.
“It’s clear that national politics are on the minds of Virginia voters this fall,” said Quentin Kidd, the Wason Center’s director. “Like or not, there’s no way for state legislative candidates to run in a vacuum -- their national party brands influence their fortunes.”
Most of the survey was conducted before the release of detailed notes of a July call between Trump and Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump urged Zelensky to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Voters were more closely split on the subject of impeachment. Less than half (49 percent) said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who supports impeachment while 44 percent said they were less likely. Recent national polls have shown Americans split about evenly on whether Trump should be impeached and removed from office.
Turnout for Virginia’s “off-off year” elections, when there is no statewide contest on the ballot, typically favors Republicans. But Christopher Newport pollsters see indications that the anti-Trump backlash that drove up Democratic turnout over the past two years has not subsided.
They note that, among likely voters, 62 percent of Democrats say they are “very enthusiastic” about voting in the election, compared to 49 percent for both Republicans and independents. They also found a 10-point advantage for Democrats who say they will “definitely” vote (84 percent of Democrats, compared to 74 percent of Republicans).
The poll found Democrats held a 13-point advantage of the “generic ballot” question, which asks voters if they will support the Republicans or Democrats running for the legislature.
“Given the significant interest and enthusiasm gaps measured in this survey, we expect some version of the Trump Bump to manifest in the 2019 Virginia state legislative elections,” said Rachel Bitecofer, the Wason Center’s elections analyst.
A Washington Post-Schar School poll released last week showed Democrats with only a slight edge in certainty to vote. That poll found that Virginia registered voters narrowly prefer Democrats over Republicans, 49 percent to 42 percent. That edge widens slightly among those who say they are certain to vote, who prefer Democrats 52 percent to 41 percent.
The Wason Center poll found that Gov. Ralph Northam’s approval rating stands at 51 percent among likely voters, while 37 percent disapprove.
The Post-Schar School poll found just under half of Virginians like the job Northam (D) is doing as governor, with 47 percent approving and 29 percent disapproving. Those are better marks than the 43 percent-44 percent approval-disapproval split he received in February, after a racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook surfaced.
The Christopher Newport University survey was conducted among a sample of 726 likely voters in Virginia’s General Assembly election this November, including 67 percent reached on cellphones and 33 percent on landlines. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.