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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

October 29, 2018

Trump Disapproval and Voter Enthusiasm Lift Spanberger in Final Week of 7th District Race

Republican Brat and Democrat Spanberger in Dead Heat as Virginia's GOP-Leaning 7th District Race Hits Final Week; Trump Disapproval and Voter Enthusiasm Life Spanberger

Summary of Key Findings

  1. In our likely voter model, Democrat Abigail Spanberger and Republican incumbent Dave Brat are in a statistical tie--46% Spanberger, 45% Brat.
  2. In our second model, restricted to the most committed voters, Spanberger has a 3-point lead, 48%-45%, just inside the margin of error.
  3. A 16-point "enthusiasm gap" boosts challenger Spanberger, as 78% of Democrats are "very enthusiastic" about voting, versus 62% of Republicans.
  4. While 47% of voters in the 7th district approve of the job President Trump is doing, 51% disapprove; 30% strongly approve while 43% strongly disapprove.
  5. In the U.S. Senate contest, likely voters in the GOP-leaning 7th District favor incumbent Democrat Tim Kaine over Republican Corey Stewart, 48%-43%.

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

Among registered voters who have voted in at least two of the last four elections in Virginia, or who were new voters to Virginia in 2017 (n=871), incumbent Republican Dave Brat is in a statistical tie with Democratic challenger, Abigail Spanberger.  Of these likely voters, 46% favor Spanberger while 45% favor Brat.  Libertarian candidate Joseph Walton has 4% and 3% are undecided.  The model's margin or error is +/- 4.2.

If the voting model is restricted to only those voters who said they were definitely going to vote and were very enthusiastic about the coming election (n=790), Spanberger opens a 3-point lead over Brat, which is inside the model's margin of error (+/- 4.4).  Of these committed voters, Spanberger receives 48%, Brat 45%, and Walton 3%, with 3% of voters undecided.

Although partisans are firmly entrenched in their respective camps, Democrats are more strongly behind Spanberger than Republicans are behind Brat.  Among likely voters, 89% of Republicans plan to vote for Brat, compared to 96% of Democrats for Spanberger.  Among committed voters, 90% of Republicans will vote for Brat, while Spanberger maintains 96% of Democrats.  Among Independents who are likely voters, Brat holds an 8-point advantage, 46% to 38%.  That lead decreases to 6 points, 46%-40%, in the committed voter model.

As in congressional districts around the country, Virginia's 7th District shows a large gender gap, with men breaking for the Republican by 15 points (52%-37%) and women breaking for the Democrat by 14 points (53%-39%).  Spanberger holds a 9-point advantage among likely voters age 44 and under (49%-40%), which jumps to 14 points among committed voters (52%-38%).  Among likely voters age 45 and older, Brat is leading Spanberger by 6 points (49%-43%), but his advantage narrows to 5 points among committed voters (49%-44%).

"The fact that a district like the 7th is competitive is strong evidence that 2018 should produce a strong midterm effect that benefits Democrats," said Dr. Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center.  "This district has a significant structural advantage for Republicans.  But that advantage can be overcome with strong turnout in the Richmond suburbs.  Democratic turnout will determine which candidate prevails on Election Day."

Unlike the 2nd District in Hampton Roads and the 10th District in Northern Virginia, which broke in favor of Democrat Ralph Northam in last year's gubernatorial election, the 7th District broke for Republican Ed Gillespie by nearly 4 points.  "Assuming Independents favor Brat, as our survey suggests, Spanberger's best strategy is to drive Democratic turnout as high as possible," Bitecofer said.  The 16-point "enthusiasm gap" between Democrats and Republicans in the survey suggests that there may be enough energy in the 7th District for that to happen.  Spanberger also appears to benefit from the inclusion of a Libertarian Party candidate on the ballot.

Although the Wason Center is not polling Virginia's U.S. Senate race statewide, we wanted to get a sense of how the race between incumbent Democratic Senator Tim Kaine and Republican Corey Stewart stood in the 7th District, which is normally a safe Republican area.  Among likely voters in the district, Kaine holds a 5-point lead over Stewart, 48%-43% Although President Trump enjoys a higher approval rate in the 7th District than shown in Wason Center surveys in the 2nd District (Oct. 15) and 10th District (Oct. 4), more voters disapprove of the job he is doing as president than approve.  While 47% of likely voters approve of his job performance, 51% disapprove.  Paralleling the "enthusiasm gap" that favors Democrat Spanberger, 43% of likely voters strongly disapprove of the job President Trump is doing while 30% strongly approve.
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