Emerson: Virginia back in play?

At one point in the past month, competing in Virginia looked like Mission Impossible for Team Trump. The WaPo/ABC poll in mid-August put Hillary Clinton up eight points, and Quinnipiac had Donald Trump down twelve, leading Team Hillary to focus their efforts elsewhere. Two new polls this week show the race in a virtual tie, however, and the latest from Emerson College has the race within a single point among likely voters, 44/43 Hillary.

The most surprising finding? Adding Tim Kaine to the ticket has been a bust in the Old Dominion, at least thus far:

A new Virginia poll conducted by Emerson College finds Hillary Clinton just one point ahead of Donald Trump, 44% to 43%, with Libertarian Gary Johnson taking 11% and the Green Party’s Jill Stein at 3%. The poll of 800 likely voters was August 30- September 1. …

Although Clinton’s running mate is Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, he does not seem to be aiding her favorability numbers. Under water, Clinton has a 15-point favorability deficit, with 41% viewing her favorably and 56% unfavorably. Trump’s scores were even worse with 37% favorable/60% unfavorable (-23).

Consistent with other Emerson polls conducted during the past week, both candidates have very high rates of loyalty in Virginia—96% for Trump, 92% for Clinton—meaning voters who approve of a candidate also plan to vote for the individual. By a substantial margin, 55% to 33%, respondents expect Clinton to win the presidency over Trump, while 8% are undecided.

Independents favor Trump to Clinton, 47% to 28%, with 19% voting for Johnson. Among Democrats, 85% plan to vote for Clinton while 9% are crossing over to Trump and 5% to Johnson. The crossover pattern is similar among Republicans, with Trump receiving 81% of the vote, Clinton 7% and Johnson 10%.

This appears to be Emerson’s first foray into Virginia, so comparisons along a series can’t be made at this point. Emerson has trended toward the sunnier side for Trump in other states, such as Pennsylvania earlier this week, but Hampton University found a virtual tie in Virginia this week too, with Hillary up only 43/41 — among registered voters, a sample type normally a bit more friendly to Democrats. That poll found Trump more trustworthy than Hillary, although neither candidate exactly wowed respondents. Trump got a 40/56 rating on trust, but Hillary only scored 35/61 — and it’s safe to say that this week’s developments won’t help. Worth noting, though: Emerson only calls landlines for its polling, for some strange reason.

There are a couple of puzzling demographic outcomes, however. Trump wins 15% of the black vote, according to the poll, while Hillary only scores 79%. That’s more than twice what Mitt Romney got in 2012, while Hillary underperforms Obama by 14 points in that demo. Also, Trump gets 10% of Obama 2012 voters, while Hillary gets slightly less than 4% of Romney 2012 voters, probably as a result of the big gap among independents (Romney won them in 2012, 54/43, but still lost the state by four points overall).

Perhaps most interestingly, Trump only trails in Northern Virginia (NOVA) by nine points, and Hillary can’t quite get to 43%. NOVA has become a Democratic stronghold in recent cycles, a topic I covered in some detail in my book Going Red, so a lack of strength there is certainly intriguing. However, Trump’s not exactly expanding the map as much as Gary Johnson is eating into Hillary’s potential NOVA base with 19% of the vote. (Jill Stein only gets 4%.) Johnson’s strength in NOVA seems very odd for a small-government libertarian — the area is heavily dependent on the federal budget for its economy — but then again, Johnson’s been running more as a center-Left No Labels candidate. If and when Johnson fades as a viable option for voters in NOVA, those votes will almost certainly flow back to Hillary.

The two polls suggest that there may be a fight left in Virginia, despite the addition of Kaine to the ticket. At the moment, the RCP average has Hillary up seven points in two-way polling, and almost eight points in four-way polling, but those include the mid-August polls that had Hillary up by double digits. Team Hillary may have to send some more resources to Virginia after all.

Also, Trump leads the other Emerson from Iowa by five points, 44/39, in the four-way race. That same poll has Charles Grassley cruising to re-election over Patty Judge, 51/40. Obama won Iowa in both elections, so a pickup for Republicans here would be helpful but probably not determinative for overall victory. Trump leads the RCP average by less than a point in the two-way and one point in the four-way. That state will likely go down to the wire in the presidential race.