Hillary Clinton holds a modest lead over Donald Trump in Virginia, according to two polls released Thursday, although the Republican nominee has gained ground since August, when he trailed by double digits.
A Roanoke College poll found Clinton leading with 44 percent to Trump’s 37 percent among likely voters, while a Quinnipiac University poll found Clinton ahead by a similar 45 percent-to-39 percent margin. Libertarian Gary Johnson garnered eight percent support in both polls, while Green Party nominee Jill Stein stood at one percent in each.
The polls suggest that Clinton maintains an advantage in winning Virginia’s 13 electoral votes despite Trump’s recent rising support in the commonwealth and across the country.
In August, a Roanoke poll found Clinton up 16 points; Quinnipiac found her leading by 11.
The latest surveys find a clearer edge for Clinton than a University of Mary Washington survey released last week, where she led by three percentage points.
The August polls were conducted “when Secretary Clinton’s numbers were at the top of their game around the country. There was a post-Democratic convention wave that she was still riding,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
“The national numbers seem to have closed substantially since then,” he said. “Virginia is still, for Clinton, in a reasonably good position, but she was double-digit numbers ahead last time.”
The Roanoke poll finds that Clinton has lost the most ground among voters in the political middle. Her 35-point lead among moderates in August is now 16 points. The Quinnipiac survey finds Clinton trailing by 10 points among independents, a shift from August, when she held a four-point edge.
Virginia is one of the few battlegrounds where Trump’s campaign has out-advertised Clinton since April, according to data from Kantar/CMAG analyzed by the Wesleyan Media Project. Clinton and her allied super PACS paused their on-air campaign when surveys showed a dominant lead. Clinton has had an edge in ground-level organization, opening 29 campaign offices across the commonwealth by late August compared with 18 for Trump, according to PBS NewsHour.
“If the Clinton campaign doesn’t gear up their advertising, it is a sign that their internal polls show them with a comfortable lead,” said Bob Holsworth, a former Virginia Commonwealth University political scientist.
Clinton is benefiting from greater party unity, with 90 percent of voters who described themselves as Democrats supporting her candidacy, compared with 78 percent of self-identified Republicans who support Trump, according to the Quinnipiac survey. The Democratic nominee is also fueled by a double-digit lead among women voters and a wide, 55-point edge among racial and ethnic minorities. In Virginia, voters do not register by party.
Both candidates are dogged by negative reputations and controversies that have arisen during the campaign. Fifty-seven percent of likely voters say that Clinton’s use of private email as secretary of state was at least reckless, with nearly 4 in 10 calling it a criminal act. Nearly 6 in 10 voters reported an unfavorable view of Trump; just under half have a negative view of Clinton.
“Neither major party candidate has nailed the state down,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington. “There’s a lot of persuading that the Trump campaign and the Clinton campaign have to do in the next six weeks.”
The Quinnipiac poll was conducted Sept. 13-21 among a sample of 659 likely voters in Virginia and carries a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points. The Roanoke College poll was conducted Sept. 11-20 among a sample of 841 likely voters and has an error margin of 3.4 points. Both surveys were conducted by live interviewers dialing random samples of cellular and landline phone numbers.