October 28, 2019

Virginia State Senate Survey

"Voters prefer Democrats in 4 key Va. Senate districts; 59% are less likely to vote for a pro-Trump candidate"

Summary of Key Findings

  1. Among all voters surveyed in four state Senate districts considered competitive by the partisan outcomes in the 2016 presidential election and 2017 gubernatorial election, Democrats show a 14-point “enthusiasm advantage” over Republicans, 63% to 49%. Among likely voters, the gap narrows to 11 points. However, Republicans are almost as likely to vote as Democrats, with 93% of Democrats reporting they will “definitely vote,” compared to 87% of Republicans.
  2. Among likely voters in those districts, Democrats lead Republicans by 14 points on the generic ballot, 51% to 37%. And by 13 points (51% to 38%), those voters prefer that Democrats control the General Assembly after the Nov. 5 election. These advantages increase under our most stringent likely voter model, increasing to 17 points for both questions (53% to 36%).
  3. Some of the Democrats’ advantages among likely voters come from Independents, who prefer Democratic candidates for the state Senate by 13 points (45% to 32%) and prefer that Democrats take control of the General Assembly by 9 points (45% to 36%).
  4. Asked about the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, 55% of all voters surveyed in these Virginia Senate districts say that opening the impeachment inquiry over his actions involving Ukraine was “the right thing to do.” This includes support from 11% of Republicans, 56% of Independents, and 91% of Democrats. 68% of self-identified “moderates” also agree.
  5. Reflecting the nationalized context of these state elections, 59% of voters say they would be less likely to vote for a Virginia Senate candidate who supports President Trump and 54% say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports impeaching Trump.


This is the second of three surveys the Wason Center is conducting on the 2019 Virginia state legislative elections. Our first, released October 7, provided an overview of the electoral environment statewide. This survey aggregates responses from voters in four competitive Virginia Senate races: SD 7 (Virginia Beach/Norfolk); SD 10 (Chesterfield/Richmond); SD 12 (Henrico/Hanover); and SD 13 (Loudoun/Prince William). We judged these competitive under our Partisan Voter Index, which assesses the partisan tilt in a particular district by comparing that district’s outcomes to statewide outcomes in previous elections. This survey is not a poll on each contest, but an aggregated look at the voters in these key districts. “These districts could tip control of the Virginia Senate, and these voters’ views suggest how the competition is going statewide as we approach Election Day,” said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center.

Turnout and Enthusiasm. Similar to the statewide survey, the electoral environment in these districts suggests that Democrats maintain an advantage going into the final weeks of campaign season among all voters on two important metrics: the generic ballot test, which asks voters if they intend to vote for a Republican or a Democrat for the state Senate, and which party they want to control the General Assembly when the election is done. Democrats maintain significant advantages on these metrics under both of our likely voter models. Under our first likely voter model, Democrats hold a 14-point advantage on the generic ballot test and a 13-point advantage on the legislative control test. In our most stringent likely voter model, Democrats hold a 17 point advantage on both. The Democrats’ advantage is powered by the collective weight of two things: heightened enthusiasm among Democratic voters and significant favor among Independents and moderates on both the generic ballot and legislative control tests. Under our first likely voter model, Independents prefer Democrats by 13 points on the generic ballot and prefer that the Democratic Party control the General Assembly by 9 points. These advantages endure under our more stringent likely voter model.

Trump and Impeachment. Given the emergence of the Ukraine issue and the opening of an impeachment inquiry by the U.S. House of Representatives, we added a question to measure how voters in these four competitive state Senate districts respond to impeachment. Two questions from the Issues and Impact section of this survey also measure how views about President Trump affect voters’ support for state legislative candidates. We find that 55% of voters in these districts say that opening the impeachment inquiry was “the right thing to do,” while 42% say it was “the wrong thing to do.” Just 3% say they don’t know, which suggests that voters are highly tuned into this issue. Regarding the state Senate election, 59% of voters say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who supports President Trump (49% strongly less). And 54% say they are more likely to vote for a state legislative candidate who supports impeaching President Trump (40% strongly more). “These findings suggest that affiliation with President Trump, an affiliation all Republican candidates share by party label, is not an asset in this cycle,” said Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center.

Issues and impact. A series of questions measuring how much state legislative candidates’ positions on issues affect voter support reveals that positions in favor of gun control, minimum wage increase, and ERA ratification are very popular among voters, including Independents. These issues, combined with anti-Trump sentiment, help explain the apparent advantage Democrats have in polling this election.

How the Survey was Conducted

The results of this poll are based on 849 interviews of active, registered voters in Virginia including 419 on landline and 430 on cell phone, conducted October 1-20, 2019. Percentages may not equal 100 due to rounding. The margin of error for the whole survey (Full Sample Model, n=849) is +/- 3.8 % at the 95% level of confidence. This means that if 50% of respondents indicate a topline view on an issue, we can be 95% confident that the population’s view on that issue is somewhere between 46.2% and 53.8%. The margin of error for the more restrictive model (Likely Voter Model #1, n=582) is +/- 4.6 at the 95% level of confidence. The margin of error for the most restrictive model (Likely Voter Model #2, n=393) is +/- 5.6 at the 95% level of confidence. Please note: it is not generally the policy of the Wason Center to release data at n <400; however, Likely Voter Model #2 is an attempt to simulate the expected low turnout in this off-off election. Margin of error is higher for subgroups within cross-tabs. A reasonable estimation of crosstab margin of error is to double the topline margin of error. All error margins have been adjusted to account for the survey’s design effect, which is 1.29 in this survey. The design effect is a factor representing the survey’s deviation from a simple random sample, and takes into account decreases in precision due to sample design and weighting procedures. Sub samples have a higher margin of error. In addition to sampling error, the other potential sources of error include non-response, question wording, and interviewer error. The response rate (AAPOR RRI Standard Definition) for the survey was 12%. Five callbacks were employed in the fielding process. Live calling was conducted by trained interviewers at the Wason Center for Public Policy Survey Research Lab at Christopher Newport University. The data reported here are weighted using an iterative weighting process within each district on sex, age, and race to reflect as closely as possible the population of likely voters in the districts.

For further information contact:

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

Dr. Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo, Research Lab Director
Office: (757) 594-9140

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