The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump unpopularity fuels wide lead for Clinton in new Virginia poll

Hillary Clinton holds a commanding lead over Donald Trump in Virginia, with disdain for the Republican presidential nominee helping Clinton overcome her own vulnerabilities, a new Washington Post poll finds.

Clinton leads Trump by a 14-point margin — 52 percent to 38 percent — among registered voters in the state and by an eight-point margin among likely voters, 51 percent to 43 percent. Her edge dips to seven points among likely voters when third-party candidates are included.

Aside from the rural southwestern part of the state, Clinton’s lead spans all regions, most by a wide margin. She trounces Trump among minority voters and slashes the advantage Republicans usually count on among whites in Virginia.

The results suggest how difficult it could be for the GOP nominee to win what had been considered a crucial swing state. Virginia had gone red for presidential candidates for decades until Barack Obama broke the streak in 2008 and won the state again in 2012. In those years, Virginians favored Obama by a nearly identical margin as in the country overall, even closer than in longtime bellwether Ohio. With its changing demographics, especially in the fast-growing suburbs around Washington, the state may not even be competitive for Trump.

Read full poll results

That would be bad news for Trump, whose path to the White House would be much more difficult without Virginia and its 13 electoral votes. To compensate, he would have to pick up support from other states, such as Pennsylvania, that have been far less friendly to Republicans.

Other recent surveys find Clinton leading Trump in most swing states and challenging him in others that routinely vote Republican. She leads by at least 10 points in Colorado and New Hampshire, and holds single-digit edges in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio. The two run about even in Iowa and Nevada, as well as in Georgia, a state GOP nominee Mitt Romney won by eight points in 2012.

If Trump loses Virginia, he would need to sweep all of these states to surpass the 270 electoral-vote threshold, unless he upsets Clinton in Democratic-leaning Wisconsin, Pennsylvania or Michigan. Polls show that Clinton leads in all three states by about 10 points or more.

The poll finds that Trump’s negative image is hampering his ability to unite Republicans and to grow support beyond Romney’s standing in 2012, when he lost to Obama 51 percent to 47 percent in Virginia. Trump has slightly more support than Romney did in solidly Republican rural parts of the state, but the real estate developer’s unpredictable campaign has turned off some reliably Republican voters elsewhere.

Walt Purnell, 71, a retired business executive from Ashburn, had hoped to vote for Jeb Bush — or John Kasich. Or Marco Rubio. Or Chris Christie. But Trump? No way.

“I think he’s a failure, I think he’s a fraud, I think he’s a con artist, I think he’s insane,” Purnell said.

Clinton’s advantage comes despite weaknesses in her personal popularity. Fifty-four percent of registered voters report an unfavorable impression of the former secretary of state; 44 percent view her favorably. Yet Trump is significantly worse off, with twice as many negative ratings as positive ones, 65 percent to 32 percent. A 56 percent majority view Trump in a “strongly unfavorable” light, 13 points higher than for Clinton.

Clinton also may benefit from the popularity of her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.), a former governor who maintains a favorable-unfavorable image of 54 percent to 37 percent in the state, similar to his standing during his 2012 Senate race. Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, is not nearly as well known, and voters split 37 percent to 34 percent favorable-unfavorable toward him.

The vast majority of voters say the selections of Kaine and Pence as running mates will not influence their vote, but 26 percent say Kaine makes them more likely to back Clinton, compared with 15 percent who say Pence is a motivator to support Trump.

Clinton’s advantage over Trump is larger than her advantage in national polls following the Democratic and Republican party conventions, including an eight-point lead among registered voters in a Washington Post-ABC News poll earlier this month.

National poll finds Clinton has widened lead over Trump to 8 points

But the electorate is not enthusiastic for either candidate. Less than half of Clinton supporters have a strongly favorable view of her, while nearly nine in 10 have a strongly negative view of Trump. By a similar margin, more Trump backers are strongly negative toward Clinton than positive toward Trump.

“There’s the dilemma,” said Joseph Baltes, 31, a factory machine operator from Winchester who considers himself a Republican. “Do I go for the person that terrifies me because of the things they say and may do, or the person who terrifies me because I don’t know if I can trust them? And right now I’m willing to hold my nose and vote for Hillary because Trump currently scares me a little bit more.”

Whatever the mood, Trump’s standing against Clinton represents another low point in Republican support in a state where the GOP controls both houses of the legislature but hasn’t won a statewide election since 2009.

Clinton has nearly as much support among minority voters as Obama did in 2012, with 93 percent of African Americans saying they prefer her to Trump. And she has stronger numbers among whites than Obama did.

The state’s white voters still give the edge to Trump, who leads Clinton among that group by eight percentage points. Some said they were drawn to his outsider status.

“I like the idea of a non-politician,” said James Duffrin, 85, a retiree from Alexandria. “Professional politicians kind of scare me. Sometimes he shoots from the hip. He doesn’t give enough thought to his answers to a lot of questions. But I don’t hold that too much against him because he’s not an experienced politician.”

But that level of white support is significantly worse than the 24-point margin Romney had four years ago. As in national polls, Trump’s strongest edge is among whites without college degrees, where he also leads Clinton by a 24-point margin, although this also is weaker than Romney’s 44-point advantage in 2012.

The shift among white college graduates has been even sharper, with Clinton holding an edge of 53 percent to 37 percent compared with Obama’s deficit of 44 percent to 54 percent in 2012.

Virginia’s large military and gun-owning populations mark one opportunity for Republicans to grow their appeal, although this has not materialized for Trump. Current and former military members lean toward Clinton by eight points after splitting evenly between Obama and Romney in 2012. Trump leads by 16 points among the half of Virginia voters whose households own a gun, but Clinton leads by 48 points among all other voters.

Virginia’s regional divisions also underscore Trump’s challenges. He maintains a 26-point edge in the southwestern part of the state, slightly larger than Romney’s 22-point edge and an area where more than 6 in 10 voters dislike Clinton.

How deeply red Virginia become a challenge for the GOP in a single decade

Beyond this reliably Republican region, Clinton has the potential to accumulate a nearly insurmountable vote margin in the inner Washington suburbs, leading by 45 points over Trump, compared with Obama’s 26-point edge in 2012. Clinton holds a seven-point edge in the Washington exurbs that include Loudoun and Prince William counties, which split evenly between Obama and Romney. She also appears stronger than Obama in the Tidewater region, which encompasses Norfolk and Virginia Beach, leading Trump by 2 to 1 compared with Obama’s low double-digit victory there four years ago. At least two-thirds of voters in both the D.C. suburbs and Tidewater have a strongly unfavorable view of Trump.

Beyond long-term challenges, Virginia Democrats and Republicans are not equally united behind their nominees this year. Clinton garners support from 93 percent of Democrats, while Trump stands at 81 percent of Republicans. Although 86 percent of Democrats who wanted Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) to win the party’s primary contest support Clinton against Trump in a two-way race, Trump stands at 69 percent support among Republicans who wanted a different candidate to win the primary election.

One key factor working in Trump’s favor is motivation to vote. Nearly 9 in 10 registered voters who support him say they are certain that they will cast ballots, compared with nearly 8 in 10 Clinton backers, which is one reason her margin over Trump shrinks from 14 points among all registered voters to eight points among likely voters. This dynamic is partly a result of lower certainty to vote among African Americans, an indication that turnout could dip from heights seen when Obama ran in 2008 and 2012.

Disaffected partisans represent the greatest opportunity for Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein, who win 11 percent and 4 percent, respectively, among registered voters. Johnson receives 25 percent support among Republicans who backed other primary candidates and 15 percent support from Sanders Democrats. A significant 14 percent of Sanders backers support Stein, who is still collecting signatures to gain ballot access. Neither candidate has secured a spot on November’s ballot, although both their parties and the Constitution Party did so in 2012.

The Washington Post poll was conducted Aug. 11-14 among a random sample of 1,002 Virginia adults interviewed on cellular and landline phones. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus four percentage points among the sample of 888 registered voters; the error margin is 4.5 points among the sample of 707 likely voters.

Emily Guskin contributed to this report.

Read more:

In Khans’ home state, Va. Republicans offer sympathy but don’t denounce Trump

Va. Republican, Trump supporter apologizes for anti-Muslim tweets

Want to know why Donald Trump’s losing? Our new Virginia poll explains it nicely.