THE ROANOKE COLLEGE POLL: Obama Leads McCain in Virginia; Warner Still U.S. Senate Favorite

Conducted by The Center for Community Research at Roanoke College

SALEM, Va.-Senator Barack Obama leads Senator John McCain by 48%-39% in the Presidential campaign in Virginia, according to a poll conducted by The Center for Community Research at Roanoke College. With just a week remaining until Election Day, 11% of polled voters remain undecided and 2% support other candidates. Former Democratic Governor Mark Warner also leads former Republican Governor Jim Gilmore 57%-22% in the U.S. Senate contest.

The Poll includes interviews conducted with 614 likely voters (registered voters who said they were likely to vote or who already had voted) in the Old Dominion between October 19 and October 26. The Poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

"These results suggest that it will be very difficult for Senator McCain to carry Virginia," says Dr. Harry Wilson, the director of The Center for Community Research. "Virginia is almost a 'must-win' state for McCain. It is difficult to see a path to electoral victory for McCain if he loses the Old Dominion."

The percentage of undecided voters remains relatively high this late in the campaign-with 11% of likely voters yet to make a decision in the contest for President. More of those who are undecided say they are leaning toward voting for Obama (20%) than McCain (16%), but 60% refuse to budge from their indecision. Supporters of both candidates are confident in their decision as nearly equal numbers say they are very certain that they will vote for Obama (93%) or McCain (93%).

The most important issue for most respondents is the economy (58%). Health care is a distant second at 9%, and the war in Iraq is third (6%). Obama led McCain in all three of those groups (51%-35%; 65%-17%; and 46%-35% respectively). While McCain led resoundingly among those who named terrorism as the most important issue (82%-12%), they constituted only 3% of respondents.

"McCain is facing an 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," Wilson says. "Senator Obama leads among the key independent and moderate groups. If Obama can turn out black voters in any significant numbers, he appears to be unstoppable. McCain has to hope for a very large turnout among the wealthiest and oldest voters."

Most likely voters say Obama would be better than McCain at handling the economy (54%-36%), while McCain would be better at handling the War on Terror (50%-43%). A strong majority say Obama better understands the needs of people like themselves (56%-32%).

In terms of who is qualified to be President, McCain (81%) leads Joe Biden (77%) and Obama (67%). Only 35% of respondents think that Sarah Palin is qualified to be President. Most respondents say they are very interested in this election (82%) and have paid a lot of attention to the campaign (77%).

The level of interest is reflected in the activities of supporters of each candidate. More than one-third (36%) of Obama supporters say they have attended a rally or contributed money to the campaign, while 26% of McCain supporters say they have been that active in his campaign. About one-third of the supporters have visited the Internet home page of their candidate (36% of Obama supporters and 32% of McCain supporters) and many also have seen the home page of the other candidate (21% of McCain supporters have been on Obama's home page, and 17% of Obama's supporters have been to McCain's home page).

Age, Gender, and Race

Respondents were asked if they had heard any acquaintance, friend, or relative say they would vote for or against McCain because of his age, Palin because of her gender, and Obama because of his race. The results show that 17% have heard someone say they would vote against McCain for his age and 16% against Obama for his race. Both were more common issues for voters than gender (3% for Palin, 4% against, and 1% had heard both.) While about three-fourths of respondents say these comments have no impact on them, 7% say age comments made them more likely to vote for McCain, and 18% say the comments made them less likely to vote for McCain. Respondents say comments about Palin's gender made them more likely to vote for her (17% compared to 11% less likely) and more likely to vote for Obama (12% compared to 3% less likely).

The Media and the Campaign

We asked respondents if they felt the news media had been neutral, biased for McCain or biased for Obama during the campaign. Just over half (54%) said the media had been neutral, but 42% thought the media had favored Obama while only 4% said they had favored McCain. Not surprisingly, there is a strong correlation between vote preference and views of the media. More than three-fourths (76%) of McCain supporters feel the media have favored Obama. Obama supporters were much more likely to say the media have been neutral (81%). The undecideds, a much smaller group, feel the media were neutral (61%) or favored Obama (37%).

Sources of Support

The candidates are in a dead heat with males, but Obama leads McCain by 14% among women. McCain leads by 12% among white voters, while Obama is ahead 87%-3% among African-Americans. Importantly, Obama leads among both Independents (43%-34%) and political moderates (60%-25%). He also leads among Democrats and liberals, while McCain is ahead among Republicans and conservatives.

McCain leads among voters 65 or older, but he trails Obama in every other age group. Obama leads among those with a high school education or less and those with a four-degree, but he trails among those with some college or an associate degree. McCain leads among respondents making over $100,000 annually but trails among those earning less than $100,000.

Obama holds a commanding lead in voter-rich Northern Virginia (63%-28%) and by smaller margins in Tidewater, Southside, and Richmond/Central Virginia. McCain leads only in the Shenandoah Valley and Southwest Virginia. Obama is receiving support from 16% of those who say they voted for George W. Bush in 2004 while McCain gets only 6% of those who say they voted for John Kerry in 2004.

Kaine and Bush

Democratic Governor Tim Kaine remains popular in the Commonwealth, with an overall approval rating of 57% (22% disapprove and 21% have mixed feelings). At the same time, President George W. Bush's overall approval rating has fallen to 21% (68% disapprove and 11% have mixed feelings).


Interviewing for The Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Center for Community Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Va., between October 19 and October 26, 2008. The sample consisted of 614 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 614 likely voters are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4 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 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.

A copy of the questionnaire, all frequencies and selected crosstabs are available online.

Center for Community Research

Released: October 28, 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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