Poll shows trouble in November for Virginia Democrats

Democrats' hopes of retaking Virginia's legislature are fading fast, according to a poll out Monday. 

In one of the few states running major elections this year, Virginians less than six weeks from now will choose their next General Assembly.

Christopher Newport University's Wasson Center for Public Policy shows that voters haven't warmed to the contests generally, and that Virginia Democrats face a tough challenge in their quest to gain seats in the commonwealth.

In a generic ballot test, Republicans hold a 41- to 36-percent edge over the Democrats. Among likely voters, Republican support increases to 47 percent and Democratic support drops to 34 percent.  A generic ballot test is one in which pollsters ask whether people prefer Republicans or Democrats, without naming specific candidates.

In the increasingly purple state, Democrats won the races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in 2013, but Republicans currently hold a 21- to 19-seat advantage in the state Senate and a 67- to 33-seat lead in the House of Delegates. 

The university's findings indicate the GOP is unlikely to lose that legislative edge in November. 

In the contest for the state Senate, where the seat count is close, Republicans score 40 percent to the Democrats' 39 percent. The Republican margin widens to 48- to 35-percent among likely voters.

The Democratic Party of Virginia did not respond to phone and email requests for comment, but one prominent Democratic state senator expressed optimism about November. 

"Turnout is the toughest part of predicting the off-off-year elections," Sen. Creigh Deeds of Charlottesville, who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2009, told AMI Newswire. "We have great candidates who, for the most part, have run energetic campaigns."

But Quentin Kidd, director of the Wasson Center, told AMI Newswire the lack of strong voter motivation could challenge Democrats as they seek to retake the Senate.

On the question of whether Virginians think the state is on the right or wrong track, voters are somewhat optimistic, with 46 percent saying it is headed in the right direction, and 35 percent in the wrong direction. 

"The right track, wrong track is a problem for them," Kidd said.

To overcome that, Kidd said that "Democrats will try to turn out their electorate in targeted districts, but they need to nationalize the election. That's quite a hill to climb in an off-off-year election, when so many of the issues in these races turn on local matters."

Kidd said that for Democrats to have a reasonable chance of winning the Senate, the party would need voter turnout to be "30 percent or higher."

"Our model, six weeks out, shows turnout right now will be between 23 and 29 percent" Kidd said. "Democrats need to bring those numbers much higher closer to the election. 

"In other words, they need to turn out people who only show up in statewide election years. I don't know what issue they have right now that can do this."

Asked whether Democrats will rely more heavily on personal campaigning by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who enjoys a 53-percent approval rating in the Wasson Center poll, Kidd was uncertain of the benefits. "McAuliffe had a rough first session in the General Assembly, and he has turned largely to economic development since then. That's not a partisan issue. It's something everyone gets behind. So it isn't clear what, aside from fundraising, he can do for Democrats in specific races."

The Wasson Center interviewed 851 registered voters between Sept. 15 and Sept. 23. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percent.