Clinton leads Trump in Virginia in new Washington Post poll; propelled by voter-rich Northern Virginia

 for the Washington Post
Hillary Clinton maintains a lead over Donald Trump in Virginia just a week from Election Day, but her six-point margin is far from ironclad, according to a new Washington Post-Schar School poll.

Antipathy toward Trump in the vote-rich counties close to Washington fuels Clinton’s overall advantage in the state, though majorities of voters around Virginia hold unfavorable impressions of both candidates.

The poll, conducted Thursday through Sunday, did not show any immediate drop in Clinton’s support following Friday’s announcement that the FBI was investigating more of the former secretary of state’s email. In fact, Clinton held her widest advantage in the polling conducted Saturday and Sunday. But that result could be due, in part, to a more demographically diverse sample of voters being reached on those days.

Clinton leads Trump, 48 percent to 42 percent, among likely voters statewide, with Libertarian Gary Johnson taking six percent and Green Party nominee Jill Stein at two percent. Clinton’s margin is similar to other recent Virginia surveys and to an August Washington Post poll where Clinton led by seven percentage points in a four-candidate race.

Voters are more closely divided in the state’s congressional races, with 47 percent supporting Democratic candidates and 46 percent backing Republicans, suggesting a significant potential for split-ticket voting. The pattern is concentrated in Northern Virginia, which includes the competitive 10th congressional District, where Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) has distanced herself from Trump amid a challenge from Democrat LuAnn Bennett. Clinton leads by 25 points over Trump in this area while Democrats hold a narrower 14-point edge in congressional support.

At the end of a long and insult-filled campaign, clear majorities of Virginians dislike both candidates, with 60 percent of likely voters unfavorable toward Trump and 57 percent holding similar views of Clinton. Nearly three-quarters of voters say Clinton is too willing to bend the rules, while nearly 6 in 10 say Trump is biased against women and minorities.

When asked whether the Republican and Democratic parties should nominate candidates who are similar to or different from Clinton or Trump in future contests, two-thirds say each should move in a different direction, including more than one-third of Democrats and Republicans who say this of their party’s candidate.

In contrast, Kaine enjoys approval from 51 percent of Virginia voters, with disapproval from 42 percent. Pence receives a slightly wider 50 to 36 percent positive split.

The direct impact of Kaine and Pence’s popularity is not clear, but the poll finds that Clinton garners 48 percent support among voters who see her unfavorably but have a positive view of Kaine. Trump receives an identical 48 percent support among those who dislike the Republican presidential nominee but see Pence in a favorable light.

Clinton’s ability to maintain a relatively stable, comfortable lead in recent months seemed to undercut expectations that the state would be a battleground in 2016. Clinton’s campaign pulled TV ads weeks ago.

But Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, said Clinton’s lead does not look commanding when put into historical context.

Rozell noted that polling in recent off-year U.S. Senate and gubernatorial contests has overestimated Democrats’ margin of victory. Three years ago, for instance, Democrat Terry McAuliffe was up by 12 percentage points at this stage of the governor’s race, and he won by only three points, Rozell said.

“Bottom line, Virginia is still in play,” he said.

Trump’s strongest region continues to be the southwestern parts of the state, including the Shenandoah Valley, where he leads Clinton by a 56 to 33 percent margin, similar to Mitt Romney’s winning margin there four years ago. The race is more closely divided in counties surrounding Richmond and eastward, as well as in Tidewater, where Clinton holds a narrow advantage.

Clinton is strongest in Northern Virginia and the heavily Democratic communities outside Washington, where she leads by 43 points in the inner suburbs, wider than President Obama’s 26-point advantage four years ago. Clinton holds a narrow seven-point edge in the band of exurbs that includes Loudoun and Fauquier counties, a region where Obama and Romney ran nearly evenly four years ago.

The Washington suburbs are also the region where voters appear most likely to vote for candidates from different parties at the presidential and congressional levels. Elsewhere in the state, voters tend to stick with the same party down the ticket.

Trump falls significantly behind fellow Republicans in Northern Virginia, trailing Clinton by 25 points while GOP congressional candidates trail Democrats by a smaller 14-point margin. In the politically divided 10th District, voters are much more supportive of Comstock’s bid for Congress than Trump’s for the presidency. The survey didn’t specifically ask voters about the Comstock-Bennett race; it questioned voters whether they support the Democrat or the Republican running for Congress in their district.

Republican efforts to insulate themselves from Trump may be helped by his image as a nontraditional Republican candidate. Fully 87 percent of likely voters say Trump is a “different type of Republican” rather than a typical party member.

Trump’s unique reputation is a main reason his supporters are drawn to him, according to the Post-Schar School poll. When asked which of three reasons are most important in their support for Trump, 39 percent cited his image as a political outsider who can fix Washington, while 26 percent said they agreed with his policies and 27 percent reasoned that he is “better than Clinton.”

Donna Hakki, 50, of Glen Allen has voted in the past for Bill Clinton but also for Mitt Romney. Now she’s for Trump. “He’s not a career politician, and I just felt like we needed change,” she said.

With two daughters in college and a son in his last year of high school, Hakki feels uncertain about their future and worries about the direction of the country.

She said she isn’t bothered by criticisms that Trump is biased against women or minorities.

“No, he’s created jobs for everyone, and my mother taught me as a child that actions speak louder than words,” she said.

Carolyn Cole, 73, a homemaker in Hanover County outside Richmond, also accepting of Trump’s controversial behavior.

“Some of that stuff was really old,” Cole said. “I would be the one to say to someone like Anthony Wiener or those in the Senate or in Congress, that you who are without sin cast the first stone. I think that is not an unusual thing. Men can be men.”

Issues matter more than such perceptions, she said. Trump will make things easier for small businesses, and is right to raise questions about illegal immigration and Muslims trying to enter the country for what she regards as suspicious reasons, she said. “We need to stop and get a handle on it first,” Cole said.

Clinton supporters are much more likely to cite opposition to Trump as the main reason for backing her, with 47 percent saying this, while 44 percent said they are driven by agreement with her policy positions. A scant 3 percent said Clinton’s experience is their primary motivation.

Dan Senzano, a 20-year-old bank teller and student at Northern Virginia Community College, plans to vote for Clinton although he isn’t especially enthusiastic.

“She’s a decent candidate, but I feel like there could be somebody out there who’s a whole lot better than she is,” said Senzano, who immigrated from Bolivia as a 4-year-old and now lives in Fairfax County.

He is passionate, however, about defeating Trump. He said his extended family of more than dozen — parents, siblings and some of their in-laws — have been discussing the presidential campaign as never before. They have even made plans to hit the polls together.

“It’s not that we’re supporting her,” he said. “Even when Obama was running, the election never came up [in family conversations]. Nobody in my family wants Trump to be president, so we’re all going as a family to vote.”

This from a man who was drawn to Trump when he first got in the race. Although he is a Democrat, Senzano liked the idea of a businessman at the helm. But Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric quickly turned him off, he said.

Janet Moore, 56, a former substitute teacher from Smithfield, is also determined to vote against Trump.

Trump seems impetuous and quick to anger, she said. “Takes things personally. … If anybody says anything, they’re liars, they’re losers. All that. I know Hillary has this commercial where she puts together where he’s mocking a handicapped reporter. All that talk, that inflammatory talk, that is not presidential to me. You’re supposed to be the leader, stay calm. You’re not supposed to incite violence against other Americans,” she said.

While more than 6 in 10 likely voters do not think there will be significant voter fraud at polls in Virginia, concerns about fraud rise to 51 percent among self-identified Republicans and 55 percent of those who support Trump, falling to 29 percent among independents and 15 percent of Democrats.

Greg Culpepper of Chesapeake in Hampton Roads, a Trump supporter, said he has little faith in the integrity of the voting process and is concerned about voter fraud, particularly on the part of Democrats. “The Hillary Clinton faction believes that they are well above the law and that laws do not apply to her, and that they’ll do anything to get elected,” he said. “… I do believe that the dead vote Democrat, I believe a lot of convicted felons are voting and I believe that revolving-door voting goes on.”

One third of voters predict there will be attempts to intimidate or prevent legitimate voters from casting ballots in the Commonwealth, with a similar level of concern across partisan and ideological lines.

This Washington Post-Schar School poll was conducted by telephone Oct. 27-30, 2016, among a random sample of 1,300 Virginia adults including landline and cellphone respondents. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 points among the samples of 1,145 registered voters and 1,024 likely voters. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York.

Emily Guskin contributed to this report.

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