The president has been a drag on Republicans in statewide elections since 2016. This year is especially significant because all 140 seats in the General Assembly are on the Nov. 5 ballot. Democrats hope to take control of the legislature, with Republicans defending razor-thin majorities of 20 to 19 in the Senate and 51 to 48 in the House of Delegates, with one vacancy in each chamber.
The president’s weak approval ratings didn’t stop the state’s top Republicans from heartily welcoming him to historic Jamestown last month, where he gave an address to mark the 400th anniversary of the birth of representative democracy. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax was the only high-ranking Democrat on the dais at the event, which was boycotted by the Legislative Black Caucus and some Democratic lawmakers.
The poll suggests that Democrats are not under a similar cloud from their own tainted party leadership. Gov. Ralph Northam, who faced a scandal in February over a racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook, is not nearly as toxic as Trump: Northam scored 37 percent approval versus 29 percent disapproval among possible voters in the Roanoke College poll.
Northam’s approval rating is similar to the findings of a Virginia Commonwealth University poll in June, which showed that 37 percent approved of his performance while 28 percent disapproved.
The Roanoke College poll found that Democrats had a slight edge over Republicans — 36 percent to 31 percent — when potential voters were asked which party should control the state Senate, and a more significant advantage in the House, at 38 percent to 30 percent.
“While we are more than two months from the elections and generic ballots have limited utility, one would prefer their party to be ahead,” poll director Harry Wilson said in a news release. He added that while Trump’s low approval could help Democrats, “Republicans can benefit from lower turnout, which is typical in Virginia midterm elections.”
The poll asked respondents to rate issues in terms of importance and found that the economy came out on top with an average rating of about 9 on a 10-point scale, with 10 being most important. Education and health care were close behind.
The more inflammatory topics that each side has emphasized in recent months were not rated quite as high: Gun control scored about 8, and abortion policy was about 7.5.
The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College conducted the poll of 556 potential Virginia voters between Aug. 11 and Aug. 19. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.