Over the past two weeks the Wason Center has released two surveys on the 2017 Virginia elections, which include the elections for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, as well as all 100 members of the House of Delegates. Virginia’s gubernatorial elections always receive a lot of national attention because they are seen as a referendum on the winner of the previous year’s presidential election. Our first survey (released September 25th and 26th) found that Democrats currently hold advantages in all three statewide races. This week’s survey, the first of four tracking surveys we will run in the upcoming weeks, finds those leads increasing and in the race for attorney general, incumbent Democrat Mark Herring is polling above 50% for the first time.
Given the results of our first two surveys there seems to be a trend. Dubbed the “Trump Effect,” the unpopularity of President Trump in Virginia (he has a 30% approval rating in the Commonwealth) may be affecting the Republican Party’s statewide nominees. To shed light into the role that President Trump may be playing in the 2017 elections in Virginia we surveyed voters regarding whether or not their vote has been affected by Donald Trump. Nearly 40% of voters said it did, with 28% of voters indicating Donald Trump has a major effect on their vote. As Figure 1 shows we also find that Democrats are far more likely to say that Trump has an impact on their vote than Republicans and Independents. In a follow up question we find that 30% of voters say that their vote in November is meant to send message of disapproval directly to the Trump administration and to the Republican-controlled Congress.
With four weeks left until Election Day our first two surveys produce evidence that the Democratic Party enjoys an embedded advantage in the 2017 cycle due to backlash to the Trump presidency. If Democratic voters are highly motivated to vote and Independents are breaking in favor of Democratic nominees, Democrats may not only maintain control of the executive branch, but they may also significantly erode the Republican Party’s majority in the House of Delegates. Currently, there are 17 Republicans serving in districts that went for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and all of them are facing Democratic Party challengers. Our test of the generic ballot for the House of Delegates reveals the Democrats have an 11 point advantage over Republicans.
With just a month left before the gubernatorial election, the current political environment appears to be advantageous for the Democrats. With a popular Democratic governor currently in office (McAuliffe is polling at 51% approval) and an unusually unpopular Republican president in the White House, 2017 may allow the Democrats to make significant strides in Virginia. This “Trump Effect” is the key to Virginia’s 2017 elections, and it will be fascinating to watch it play out over the next month.
By Collin Buchanan
Wason Center Fellow, 2017-2018