Roanoke College

RC Poll: Obama trails Republican front runners; Allen and Kaine in dead heat in Va poll

  • RC Poll: Obama trails Republican front runners; Allen and Kaine in dead heat in Va poll

  • 09/26/11

    The Roanoke College Poll

    September 26, 2011

    Conducted by The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College


    With 14 months remaining until the 2012 election, Virginia's U.S. Senate race is a statistical dead heat. Republican George Allen leads Democrat Tim Kaine 42% to 39% with 19% undecided. President Obama trails some potential Republican opponents, but he leads others. The generic (unnamed) Republican leads Obama 41% to 33%; Mitt Romney leads 45% to 37%; and Rick Perry leads by an statistically insignificant 42% to 40%. At the same time, Obama leads potential opponents Michele Bachmann (46% to 35%), Ron Paul (43% to 33%), and Sarah Palin (50% to 31%). Looking only at registered voters, none of those margins change by more than 1 percent and several do not change at all. Within two key groups, Kaine leads among Moderates (52%-30%), but Allen leads among Independents (42%-33%). Obama also performs better among Moderates and not as well with Independents.*

    The Poll includes interviews conducted with 601 residents of the Old Dominion between September 6 and September 17. The Poll has a margin of error of + 4 percent.

    Politics and the State of Virginia

    In general, Virginians remain somewhat positive about the direction of the Commonwealth, but decidedly negative regarding the direction of the country. A plurality (49%) think the state is headed in the right direction, but an overwhelming majority (81%) think the country is on the wrong track.

    Obama's approval rating is 39%, while 54% disapprove of the job he is doing as President. Congress fares even worse among respondents, with an 11% approval rating. Virginians are much more likely to approve of their own member of the House of Representatives, however. They enjoy a 41% approval rating, with only 36% disapproving. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has an approval rating of 67%, while a similar number (67%) approve of the job U.S. Sen. Mark Warner is doing.

    Respondents were evenly split (48% to 48%) between thinking that elected officials should vote the way their constituents prefer or vote for what the representative thinks is best for the country. Citizens also appear to be strongly in favor of political compromise. More than two-thirds (68%) think elected officials should compromise to get things done rather than holding firm to their beliefs if that could lead to gridlock. A majority (56%) said they would vote for a candidate who said they would compromise over a candidate who said they would stand on their principles (32%). Not surprisingly then, 71% of the respondents think that gridlock in Washington is more the result of political gamesmanship, rather than a reflection of genuinely different views regarding what is best for the country (22%).

    The Economy, Jobs and the Deficit

    Virginians judge unemployment to be a more serious problem than the budget deficit by nearly a 3:1 margin (65% to 21%). A strong majority (71%) of those who see unemployment as more important support governmental efforts to create jobs even if that increased the deficit for a couple of years. Similarly, most of the residents (64%) who think the deficit is more important would support efforts to reduce the deficit even if it means fewer jobs would be created for a couple of years.

    A majority of respondents (58%) think the government can safely run a smaller deficit, while 35% think the budget must be balanced. Virginians prefer that the deficit be reduced through a combination of budget cuts and tax increases (66%) but 29% prefer budget cuts alone. Only 4% prefer tax increases alone. Majorities think the deficit can be significantly reduced without cutting entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (62%), without raising taxes on most Americans (59%) and without cutting other important programs (51%). Fewer think deficit reductions can be achieved without cutting the defense budget (44%).

    Two-thirds (67%) of Virginia residents think that everyone should pay some amount in income taxes. A majority (55%) think that the rich should pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes because they can afford it, while 30% see that policy as a penalty for hard work and success.

    Finally, when asked to choose who they think is most responsible for the current economic conditions in the United States, respondents were most likely to choose former President George W. Bush (25%) followed by financial institutions (18%), President Obama (16%), Congressional Democrats (16%) and Congressional Republicans (7%).


    "While the election of 2012 is still a long way off-14 months is an eternity in political time-it appears that the Senate race may well be nip-and-tuck for the next year and beyond," said Dr. Harry Wilson, the director of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research. "At the same time, President Obama's campaign has to be concerned about the possibility of losing Virginia in 2012 after putting the state in the Democratic column in 2008. He not only trails the generic Republican candidate, but he is also currently behind the two front-runners for the Republican nomination-Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. An approval rating of only 39% should add to his worries. Still, he leads several potential Republican nominees."

    "Virginians claim to prefer political compromise over sticking to principle," Wilson said, "even to the point of voting for a candidate who said they would compromise. Of course, no candidate is likely to test that assertion. Conventional political wisdom holds that opening oneself up to the claim of being wishy-washy is a recipe for defeat."

    "Virginians clearly want more jobs," Wilson said, "even at the cost of short-term deficit increases. And they think, perhaps incorrectly, that significant deficit reduction can be achieved without broadly shared pain. As in previous polls, residents prefer a combination of budget cuts and tax increases to reduce the deficit."


    * There were more moderates (43%) in the poll than independents (32%). Moderates are somewhat split with regard to party affiliation, with 29% self-identifying as Republican and 44% saying they are Democrats. Almost half (48%) of Independents are ideologically moderate, but 39% are conservative.


    Interviewing for The Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. between September 6 and September 17, 2011. A total of 601 Virginia residents were interviewed. 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 601 Virginia residents 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 residents who have a home telephone. Where the results of subgroups are reported, the sampling error is higher. Results were statistically weighted for gender, race and age.

    A copy of the questionnaire and all frequencies may be found here.

  • Dr. Harry Wilson, director of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research
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