The Roanoke College Poll: McDonnell Opens Gap Over Deeds in Virginia; Republicans Look for Statewide Sweep

The candidates in Virginia's race for governor met for their final debate at Roanoke College on October 20.

The candidates in Virginia's race for governor met for their final debate at Roanoke College on October 20.

SALEM, Va. - Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob McDonnell has opened a 17-point lead (53%-36%) over Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds according to a poll conducted by The Center for Community Research at Roanoke College. The Poll also found significant leads for the Republicans in the Lieutenant Governor's race in which Bill Bolling (R) leads Jody Wagner (46%-33%) and the contest for Attorney General in which Ken Cuccinelli leads Steve Shannon (47%-32%).

The Poll includes interviews conducted with 569 likely voters (registered voters who said they were likely to vote) in the Old Dominion between October 21 and October 27. The Poll has a margin of error of + 4.1 percent.

The percentage of undecided voters remains high this late in the campaign-11% of likely voters have yet to make a decision in the contest for Governor. Even higher percentages remain undecided in the Lieutenant Governor's race and in the contest for Attorney General (21% each), though the number of undecided voters is smaller now than in a comparable survey conducted four years ago. Deeds holds a slight advantage among undecided voters, 24%-20%, while about 90% of the supporters of each candidate say it is very certain they will vote for that person. Just over 40% of the respondents have paid a lot of attention to the campaign, and 48% reported having paid some attention. Similarly, 48% reported being very interested in the campaign with another 41% saying they were somewhat interested.

Applying a more restrictive definition of likely voter (registered, self-reported "very likely" to vote, and voted in 2008) increases the McDonnell lead to 55%-36% (N=472), with a 4.5% margin of error.

All of those who are undecided said they are very likely to vote. They tend to be moderate, independent, middle-aged, have paid some attention to the campaign and are somewhat interested in the campaign.

In a generic statewide question, 43% of respondents said they would vote for the Republican candidate in their House of Delegates district election, while 33% said they would vote for the Democrat. That result can not be applied to any specific district because of the small numbers of voters interviewed in each district.

Sources of Support

McDonnell leads among virtually all demographic subgroups. Of greatest importance, he leads among self-described Independents (55%-29%), but he trails Deeds among political moderates (51%-38%). Deeds leads among the youngest voters and African-Americans, but McDonnell holds a strong lead among middle-aged and older voters as well as with white voters.

McDonnell leads in every region of the Commonwealth as well as within each educational and income group. While there are some signs of a gender gap, McDonnell leads among both men (57%-32%) and women (49%-40%).

Issues in the Campaign

McDonnell and Deeds met at Roanoke College on October 20 to formally debate the issues in the campaign's final debate between the gubernatorial candidates.

The economy was identified as the most important issue by 35% of likely voters. Health care (11%), transportation (8%), jobs/unemployment (8%), character/moral values (7%), and education (6%) were also thought to be important.

Deeds has an advantage among those who identified health care (44%-40%), education (69%-28%), or transportation (57%-29%), and the candidates evenly split among those who said that character/moral values was the most important issue. The economic-minded voters broke heavily in favor of McDonnell (65%-29% for general economy/taxes/budget and 63%-23% for unemployment).

In a series of questions asking likely voters to choose which candidate would best handle specific issues, respondents said McDonnell would be better in dealing with the economy (56%-35%), transportation (50%-35%), and education (49%-39%). Deeds was identified as the most likely to raise taxes (63%-20%), and as the candidate who has run the most negative campaign (42%-22%).

Respondents were offered several alternatives with regard to one of the major issues in the campaign-transportation. Four choices were offered on road improvements-shifting funds from other areas to fund road improvements (25%), improving highways as current funds allow (24%), toll roads (21%), and raising taxes earmarked for highways (18%). These results are almost identical to those found when the same question was asked four years ago. Those who prefer no tax increases supported McDonnell by almost 3-1, those who support tolls slightly preferred McDonnell, and those who support a tax increase support Deeds by about 3-1.

Respondents also said they would not be willing to pay higher taxes for health care (47%-45%) or road improvements (59%-36%), but they would be willing to pay more for education (56%-39%). Respondents in most surveys say they are willing to pay higher taxes for education.

Respondents were asked about the potential impact of the NRA's endorsement of McDonnell. A majority of respondents said it made no difference to them (67%), while the rest were almost evenly split between saying it made them less likely to vote for McDonnell (18%) or more likely to vote for him (16%).

Governor Kaine and President Obama

Governor Tim Kaine remains popular in the Commonwealth, with an overall approval rating of 48%, though that is much lower than former Governor Mark Warner's rating of 72% four years ago. At the same time, President Barack Obama's approval rating is almost evenly split between those who approve of the job he is doing as President (45%) and those who disapprove (46%). Obama's approval rating is slightly higher than George W. Bush's (38%) four years ago. Deeds does very well among those who approve of Kaine and/or Obama while McDonnell draws the support of over 90% of those who disapprove of Obama and 85% of those who disapprove of Kaine.

On a related note, 60% of respondents think the country is on the wrong track (33% think it is heading in the right direction), while they are slightly more positive about the state of the Commonwealth with 40% saying it is heading in the right direction and 44% saying it is off track.


"These results suggest that it will be very difficult for Deeds to win in Virginia," said Dr. Harry Wilson, the director of the Center for Community Research.

"Deeds is facing a steep uphill battle in so far as he has a lot of ground to make up in one week, and the tide is not moving in his direction. McDonnell holds a significant lead among the key independent group. Deeds has to hope for a very large turnout among the core Democratic voters as well as the so-called 'Obama voters.'"

"The down-ticket races also tilt strongly toward the Republicans," Wilson said. "Despite strong attacks by Democrats Jody Wagner and Steve Shannon, Bill Bolling and Ken Cuccinelli hold strong leads in the races for Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General, respectively."

"While voters still approve of Governor Kaine, his support is significantly less than former Governor Warner's four years ago, and President Obama's approval is slipping as well. Voters are primarily concerned with the economy, and they prefer McDonnell on that issue. None of this bodes well for Deeds or the other Democrats on the ticket."


Interviewing for The Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Center for Community Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. between October 21 and October 27, 2009. The sample consisted of 569 likely voters in Virginia. The sample of phone numbers was prepared by Survey Sampling Inc. of Fairfield, Conn. and was created so that all residential telephone numbers, including unlisted numbers, had a known chance of inclusion.

Questions answered by the entire sample of 569 likely voters are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4.1 percent at the 95 percent level of confidence. This means that in 95 out of 100 samples like the one used here, the results obtained should be no more than 4.1 percentage points above or below the figure that would be obtained by interviewing all registered voters who have a telephone. Where the results of subgroups are reported, the sampling error is higher.

The questionnaire and frequencies and selected crosstabs are posted online.

Released: October 29, 2008
Contact Name: Dr. Harry L. Wilson, Director
Contact Phone: Office: (540) 375-2415; Home: (540) 992-1333; Cell: (540) 597-6925
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