A Warning for Democrats in Wason Center Poll

This morning’s Wason Center (Christopher Newport University) poll gives the Democrats a small lead among likely voters in the battle for votes in this November’s General Assembly elections – but when it comes to seats, it could be a different story.

The poll puts the Democrats at 43 percent support, just ahead of the Republicans’ 39 percent, with 12 percent undecided. None of the three statewide Democrats have approval ratings over 50 percent – although Attorney General Mark Herring’s net approval (approve minus disapprove) is positive. That said, none of them have disapproval ratings over 50 percent either – unlike President Trump of whose performance 54 percent of Virginians disapprove in the poll. Right track is just ahead of wrong track (46%-40%).

It should be noted that in 2017, Democrats had a nine-point advantage in House votes, which translated into two fewer seats (Sabato). Court-ordered redistricting, for all the heat it caused, only would have flipped three or four seats in the Democrats’ direction – and that assumes the Democrats repeat their 2017 margin. In this poll, they don’t. The clustering that comes with a base tilted to urban and suburban voters still applies, to the Democrats’ disadvantage.

Democrats are sure to question the partisan sampling in the poll. The two parties are even among self-declared partisans; the GOP even has a 5-point lead when leaners are included. None of that has been borne out in recent voting history.

Then again, recent voting history didn’t include scandals befalling all three Democratic statewide officials. While I doubt it leads anybody to decide they were Republicans, it might very well have caused more than a few to decide they’re Independents for now.

Moreover, the likely voter question that gave the Democrats their small lead was of the likely voters subsample, for which sampling data wasn’t provided. In other words, questioning the Wason Center’s voting weights is a slender reed here.

The fact is that the battle for control of the state legislature is competitive, with both parties having reasons for hope and reasons for frustration. As Nick Robinson might put were he an analyst in Virginia rather than the United Kingdom, the poll “is a form of exquisite torture.”