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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

March 5, 2018

Stewart Leads GOP Senate Primary, but 66% Undecided; Majority of VA Voters 'Strongly Disapprove' of Trump

Stewart leads GOP Senate primary, but 66% undecided; majority of VA voters "strongly disapprove" of Trump.

Summary of Key Findings

  1. Two-thirds of Republican voters are undecided about who they will support in their party's June U.S. Senate primary, but Corey Stewart begins the nominating campaign with a small lead.
  2. Democratic Senator Tim Kaine enters a reelection campaign with a 53% favorability rating and a 20-plus point lead on potential Republican challengers.
  3. President Trump's approval rating in Virginia is 37%, 52% of voters "strongly disapprove" of the job he's doing as president.
  4. Although 57% of Virginians say the Commonwealth is on the right track, only 32% say the same about the country.

For further information contact:

Dr. Quentin Kidd, Director
qkidd@cnu.edu
Office: (757) 594-8499
Mobile: (757) 775-6932

Dr. Rachel Bitecofer, Assistant Director
rachel.bitecofer@cnu.edu
Office: (757) 594-8997
Mobile: (541) 729-9824

Analysis

Although positive about the state of the Commonwealth, Virginia voters enter the 2018 election year with a pessimistic view of the state of the Union. While 57% of voters say that things in Virginia are heading in the right direction, only 32% say the same about the country, a 25-point difference. This reflects Democrats’ and Independents’ deep dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump’s performance, a result that remains largely unchanged among Virginia voters since he took office in January 2017. Almost 9 out of 10 Democrats (88%) and a majority of Independents (53%) say they strongly disapprove of the job Trump is doing. However, Trump’s overall favorability rating among Republicans is 84%, with 59% saying they strongly approve of the job he is
doing. Among those who voted for him for president, 86% approve of his performance, of which 59% strongly approve. Only 11% of 2016 Trump voters in Virginia disapprove of his performance now.

“While Trump has lost a little ground among Republicans and those who voted for him in 2016, he nevertheless enjoys very robust support among his partisan loyalists,” said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy. “If Trump’s approval-disapproval is a guide, the 2018 elections are setting up to be base elections in Virginia.”

Tim Kaine enters his first reelection bid to retain his seat in the U.S. Senate with a 53% favorability rating and significant advantages against potential Republican challengers. Few Republican primary voters have tuned into the party’s June primary, but four candidates have declared their candidacies for the party’s nomination. The two best-known candidates are Corey Stewart, who nearly upset Ed Gillespie for the party’s gubernatorial nomination last fall, and E.W. Jackson, who ran in the Republican primary for Senate in 2012 and was the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor in 2013. Stewart enters as the frontrunner, with the support of 16% of potential Republican primary voters. Jackson has 7% and Delegate Nick Freitas has 6%.

Asked who they will support in the June primary, 66% of Republicans said they are undecided. More than 80% of all voters said they do not know enough about either Freitas or Jackson to register an opinion. “As it stands, the Republican primary is a contest between unknowns,” said Rachel Bitecofer, the Wason Center’s assistant director. “Stewart may be better known than the others, but two out of three voters couldn’t offer a substantive opinion on him, either.”

Hypothetical matchups between Kaine and Stewart, Jackson and Freitas underscore the challenge the eventual Republican nominee will face. Partly due to Kaine’s high name recognition as an incumbent senator and as Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016, and partly due to strong headwinds for Republicans in the midterm cycle, Kaine enjoys 23 or more point leads against his potential GOP challengers. Head-to-head, Kaine polls consistently at 56%, while his potential rivals poll around 33%. “That says less about the candidates and more about the size of the Republican base – the locked-in vote against Kaine,” Bitecofer said.

The survey of 1,562 registered Virginia voters has an overall margin of error of +/-2.5%.

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