Barack Obama's numbers are the weakest they've been in Virginia since before the 2010 election, but he still leads all of his top potential Republican opponents for next year by at least 4 points in the state.
Obama's approval is in slightly negative territory now with 47% of voters giving him good marks while 48% disapprove. On our last poll, conducted shortly after the capture of Osama bin Laden, he was at 51/44. He had also been on positive ground our previous two surveys before that. In March it was 48/45 and last November it was 50/45.
There's no one place where Obama has seen any particularly drastic shift in his numbers since our last Virginia poll. With Democrats his approval is still a very solid 89%, but it's down from the almost remarkable 94% it stood at in May. And with Republicans his disapproval, which was already pretty unanimous at 88%, has ticked up even further to 93%. If there's a silver lining for Obama in his 8 point net approval drop since May in Virginia it's that his approval with independents has remained steady at 48%, with 42% disapproving of him at this point.
Despite his declining popularity Obama continues to lead all of the top Republican candidates in the state. It's only a 4 point advantage against Mitt Romney at 47-43 but he has pretty healthy leads against the other contenders- 9 points over both Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry at 49-40 and 48-39 respectively, an 11 point advantage over Herman Cain at 49-38, and a 14 point one over Sarah Palin at 51-37.
This is the first time we've tested Bachmann, Perry, and Cain in Virginia. Obama's lead over Romney is down 7 points from an 11 point advantage at 51-40 in May but he's only shed one point against Palin, his 14 point edge almost identical to the 15 point one he had at 55-40 the last time around.
Obama's really benefiting from the unpopularity of the Republican candidate field in the state. All 5 of the candidates we tested have net negative favorability ratings both overall and specifically with independent voters. Cain's numbers are the 'best,' such as it is with a -8 spread at 27/35. He's followed by Perry at -10 (25/35), Romney at -15 (34/49), Bachmann at -19 (30/49), and Palin at -34 (28/62).
The overall take from these numbers is that Virginia continues to look like it could be something of a firewall for Obama, making it the most important state in next year's contest. We found last week that Obama was tied with Romney nationally, performing 7 points behind his margin of victory against John McCain. But here his 4 point advantage over Romney is only 2 points worse than he did against McCain, meaning that Obama's running more or less 5 points better in Virginia compared to 2008 than he is in the rest of the country.
Virginia was in some sense icing on the cake for Obama last time- he was glad to win it, but he didn't necessarily need it to win. Now with his numbers flagging in places like Pennsylvania that are more traditionally Democratic Virginia may well be a critical part of Obama's path to 270 electoral votes next year. Combine that with the Kaine/Allen Senate race and you have the biggest state in the country next year.
Full results here