Monday, January 24, 2011

Breaking down Virginia

We polled the Jim Webb/George Allen rematch that's now become a reality late last year and found Webb ahead 49-45. Here are three reasons why Allen could win...and a couple reasons why at least for now he probably won't:

The Case for Allen:

-Voters in the state don't strongly dislike him. 40% have a favorable opinion and 41% an unfavorable one. Most incumbents who lose bids for reelection leave office really unpopular but that's not the case for Allen- voters were then and continue to be pretty evenly divided on him. His defeat ultimately had more to do with having to run in a strongly Democratic year than 'Macaca' or a strong desire for people to get rid of him.

-Webb has not proven to be overwhelmingly popular. He had a 43% approval rating on our last poll which is the exact average we found for all Senators we polled in the second half of 2008. He has basically no crossover support from Republicans- only 8% of them approve of him. Webb's position is fine but he is by no means an unbeatable juggernaut.

-Allen's vulnerability to a Tea Party challenge seems pretty limited. 73% of Republicans in the state have a favorable opinion of him to only 8% with an unfavorable one. Allen is a very well known quantity to GOP voters and they overwhelmingly like him so that's going to make it very difficult for anyone to go after him from the right.

The Case against Allen:

-Allen is likely to be dealing with an electorate that's much more Democratic than the one he lost with in 2006. For the first Allen/Webb contest the exit polls showed that among those who turned out there were 3% more Republicans than Democrats. For the 2008 Presidential election there were 6% more Democrats than Republicans. That's a 9 point shift in the electorate from a midterm to a Presidential year. Since Allen has virtually no appeal to Democrats- only 6% said they'd support him on this poll- that means he'd have to rack up a huge lead with independents to knock off Webb in a Presidential electorate but...

-Independents like Webb better than they like Allen. Webb's approval with them is a 48/34 spread while Allen's favorability with them breaks down 38/45. Webb has a 5 point advantage with independents in the head to head. It's certainly not impossible for a Republican to rack up a huge lead with independent voters in Virginia- our polling generally showed Bob McDonnell winning them 2:1- but Allen is not anywhere close to that right now.

I'm 75% confident Webb would win if the voting was today but Allen certainly starts out in a viable enough position that he can win if things go his way over the next 21 months.


Quadfather said...

If Webb votes to keep Obamacare at some point in the senate I'll bet Allen picks up 3-5 points. We will see in due time.

NRH said...

Webb had already voted for health care reform when the poll was taken, and health reform has steadily gained in popularity since the Koch-funded assault on it ended. When Republicans start having to vote on the individual popular elements of the reform bill and admit that they don't have any actual ideas, it will only get more popular.

Jonny V said...

I'm a Virginian and I hate George Allen with a passion. I'll do my part to help Webb crush him.

I disagree with Webb sometimes, but on some issues he's among the very best Senators (for example he brings up the issue too many Americans in prison --- which of course leads to the failure that is the "War on Drugs.")

Anonymous said...

Can you post the full crosstabs?

Anonymous said...

If he votes to repeal "Obamacare" he will lose even more votes for being an unprincipled flip flopper and pissing off both the left and the right. Not sure why people think Democrats are going to hightail, or should even consider hightailing, from votes everyone knows they took.

The Interesting Times said...

"Allen is likely to be dealing with an electorate that's much more Democratic than the one he lost with in 2006."

2006 (and then 2008) were advertised as unprecedented.

The only way I see the electorate being that Democratic again is if there is another Democratic wave.

Only two years after a Republican wave, I see that as unlikely.

Dustin Ingalls said...

"Can you post the full crosstabs?"

NRH said...

@TIT - So you find it perfectly plausible to go from Democratic wave in 2008 to Republican wave in 2010, but not from Republican wave to Democratic wave? 2008 was a Republican year thanks to low Democratic turnout, which is highly unlikely to be repeated with a presidential election on the ballot. In particular, young and minority voters had a poor showing in 2010. With Obama atop the ticket again in 2012, both groups are once again going to participate at higher rates, while Republicans don't have any groups with much upside to them.

DBL said...

The 2009 electorate was Republicans +4, the same as 2004. In 2006 it was Republicans +3. In 2008 it was Democrats +6. In 2006 and 2009 the electorate was 16% Black. In 2004 it was 21% Black. In 2008 it was 20% Black. 2008 has the highest composition of 18-29, 21%. Allen is likely to see an electorate that has more Blacks and more youth than 2006.

That might not be a big deal, however. What we need to remember about 2006 and 2008 is that Democratic turn-out was up, but also Republican turn-out was down. The former might happen, but the latter is unlikely. The electorate will probably be somewhere between 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2008.

An increase in Blacks and youth Democrats might not hurt Allen, however. Allen got only 7% of Democrats, while McCain got 8%. It's trading one group for Webb for another. In fact, Allen lost independents by 12 points, McCain lost them by only 1.

If Allen can do better with independents than McCain did, then he can afford to lose a few points from the 2004-06-09 electorate advantage.

NRH said...

The key is that Allen is not winning over independent voters, nor does he have much room to grow. People have more or less made up their minds about him from his last time around. In an election year when we can expect (like in both 2004 and 2008) black turnout to rise about 4% from the off-year elections, Allen would need to hold his base and still pick up a substantial lead among independents. He's holding his base, but the initial signs don't give him the boost among independents. It's a long way off, but when low-frequency voters are more likely to show up, it helps Democrats, who run better among those demographic groups. Allen would need to do substantially better among other groups to make up for it, and I just don't think he has that room to grow.

The Interesting Times said...

NRH, I don't consider 2008 to have been a Democratic wave election. I regard it more as simply sustained momentum from 2006. In other words, the pendulum was still swinging leftwards.

In 2010, it swung hard back towards the right. I just don't see a hard swing back to the left so soon after a hard rightward swing.

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