Roanoke College Poll: Late deciders push Romney to narrow lead over Obama in Va.; Allen overtakes Kaine in Va. Senate race

Governor Mitt Romney has overtaken President Barack Obama by a very narrow margin in Virginia (49% - 44%), according to a Roanoke College Poll conducted after the Presidential debates. Republican George Allen also enjoys a 5 point lead over Democrat Tim Kaine (47% - 42%) in the race for the U.S. Senate seat in Virginia. The Roanoke College Poll interviewed 638 likely voters in Virginia between Oct. 23 and October 26 and has a margin of error of +4 percent. Employing a more stringent screen for likely voters (N=503) increases Romney's lead to 54 percent to 41 percent and Allen's lead to 51 percent to 39 percent.[1]

Only 5 percent of the electorate remains undecided in the Presidential contest, while the other candidates on the ballot draw smaller numbers of voters (Johnson, 2%; Stein 1%; and Goode 1%). Among those who made their vote decision after one or more of the debates, Romney leads 53 percent to 35 percent.

Sources of support

Romney now leads among men (52% - 39%), Republicans (95% - 4%), Conservatives (87% - 9%), and those aged 50-64 (55% - 37%), 65 or older (61% - 36%), and white voters (61% - 33%). Obama still holds strong leads among Democrats (94% - 2%), Liberals (89% - 8%), younger voters 18-34 years old (55% - 28%), and African-Americans (89% - 6%), but his lead among women has statistically disappeared (48% - 47%). 

Romney leads among those who identify themselves as Independents (59% - 33%), but Obama leads among self-described political moderates by a similar margin (54% - 35%). More than half of Independents (52%) think of themselves as Moderate, while 34 percent are Conservative, and 9 percent are Liberal. A plurality of Moderates (42%) are Democrats, while slightly fewer (40%) are Independents, and only 14 percent are Republicans. A plurality of Independents (47%) are moderate, while one-third (35%) are conservative and only 13 percent are liberal. This helps to explain why Obama leads among Moderates but trails among Independents. 

Three-fourths (77%) of Obama supporters say their vote is a vote for him rather than a vote against Romney (15%). Just over half of Romney supporters (55%) say their vote is a vote for Romney and 22 percent say their vote is a vote against Obama. This is stronger enthusiasm for Romney compared to the Oct. 2 Roanoke College Poll.

The Virginia Senate Race

In the matchup of former governors, the cross tabulations are very similar to those in the Presidential vote. Only 5 percent of Obama supporters plan to vote for Allen, and 3 percent of Romney supporters say they will vote for Kaine. There are still twice as many undecided voters in this race (10%), when compared to the Presidential contest. 

While many polls, including the Oct. 2 Roanoke College Poll, suggest that Kaine has been running a few points stronger than Obama, the results here reveal a very high percentage of straight-ticket voting and Presidential coattails.

Favorable/unfavorable views; important issues

President Obama's favorable rating is 48 percent (46% unfavorable), almost unchanged in a month, while Mitt Romney's ratings are up significantly from a month ago (49% favorable; 39% unfavorable). Governor Bob McDonnell sits at a 46 percent favorable rating.  George Allen and Tim Kaine are virtually tied in their favorable ratings (Allen--45%, Kaine--44%), but Kaine's unfavorable ratings are slightly higher (Kaine - 41%, Allen - 33%). Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan (47% favorable, 38% unfavorable) fares better than Vice-President Joe Biden (42% favorable, 47% unfavorable).

Governor Romney has erased President Obama's lead with regard to doing a better job on several specific issues. Romney is now perceived as being capable of doing a better job on unemployment (53% - 41%), taxes (48% - 44%), and immigration (46% - 42%). Romney maintains his lead on dealing with the budget deficit (55%-36%). Obama still leads on foreign policy (49% - 43%) and Medicare (48% - 44%), and they are statistically tied on Social Security (Obama 45% - 44%) and health care (47% - 47%). 

Poll results indicate that Virginia residents still think that Obama understands them better than Romney does, but the gap has nearly disappeared. More than half (56%) think Obama understands the needs of people like them very well or fairly well (unchanged in a month), while 53 percent say the same about Mitt Romney (up 12% in a month).  Romney is now thought to be a stronger leader (48% - 44%).

Not surprisingly, the issues noted as most important to the likely voters centered on the economy. More than half (51%) cited the economy in general as most important, while 9 percent mentioned unemployment or jobs, and 4 percent said the budget deficit was most important. Eight percent said health care was most important to them, and 6 percent cited women's issues or abortion as most important. Romney holds strong leads among those citing economic issues, while Obama fared better among those naming health care or women's issues.

Views of Virginia and the U.S. -- Important Issues -- Elected officials' approval ratings

A majority of likely Virginia voters (58%) think the United States is on the wrong track while 38 percent think the country is headed in the right direction. Perceptions of the Commonwealth are more optimistic than the country (56% think Virginia is headed in the right direction; 32% think it is on the wrong track). 

President Obama's approval rating is 44 percent (compared to 46% last month), and half of those polled (50%) disapprove of the job he is doing. Governor Bob McDonnell's approval rating is 51 percent (unchanged), while Congressional approval is 8 percent (up 2 percent).


"What a difference a month can make," said Dr. Harry Wilson, director of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research. "Governor Romney made up a lot of ground during and after the debates. Those likely voters who made their decision during or after the debates favor Romney by 18 percent."

"While President Obama's approval rating and favorable rating are largely unchanged from last month, Governor Romney's numbers have improved dramatically. Almost certainly, the debates helped Romney tremendously. This is now a very close race, and the momentum seems to be on Romney's side."

"With regard to the Senate race, we now see strong evidence of Presidential coattails. The fates of Allen and Kaine may now be in the hand of the Presidential nominees."


Interviewing for The Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Va., between Oct. 23 and Oct. 26, 2012.  A total of 638 likely voters in Virginia were interviewed. The sample of land lines and cell phones was prepared by Survey Sampling Inc. of Fairfield, Conn., and was created so that all cell phone and residential telephone numbers, including unlisted numbers, had a known chance of inclusion. Cell phones constituted 27 percent of the completed interviews.

Questions answered by the entire sample of 638 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 Virginia likely voters who have a home telephone or a cell phone. Where the results of subgroups are reported, the sampling error is higher. 

Quotas were used to ensure that different regions of the Commonwealth were proportionately represented. The data were statistically weighted for gender, race, and age.

A copy of the questionnaire and frequencies and the cross tabs may be found on the Roanoke College web site.

For additional information, call the Roanoke College Public Relations Office at (540) 375-2282.

[1] Likely voters were defined as registered voters who said they were very likely or somewhat likely to vote in November. The more stringent screen included only those registered voters who said they were very likely to vote in November, had voted in 2008, and had thought a lot about the Presidential campaign. 

Released: October 31, 2012
Contact Name: Dr. Harry Wilson
Contact Phone: (540) 375-2415 (office), (540) 992-1333 (home), (540) 293-4206 (cell)
Contact Email:


About the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research

IPOR conducts monthly surveys in Virginia that benefit the community, state and nation. Regular topics include Virginians' consumer confidence and political candidate polling. 

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