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UMW poll shows Warner ahead of McDonnell

A new poll from the University of Mary Washington says U.S. Sen. Mark Warner could easily fend off a challenge next year from Gov. Bob McDonnell.

The match-up is theoretical, but the poll indicates Warner would get the support of 51 percent of those polled, versus 35 percent for McDonnell.

Warner, who is in his first term in the Senate, has said he’ll run for re-election next year. McDonnell is in the last year of his term as governor and has not commented on his future plans.

McDonnell did get relatively high approval ratings—52 percent of those polled said they think he’s doing a good job as governor.

The poll was sponsored by UMW’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies. It questioned 1,004 Virginia adults by landline telephone and cellphones March 20–24, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

UMW political science professor Stephen Farnsworth, who is the center’s director, said the poll results show more that Warner is a strong and popular candidate, rather than speaking ill of McDonnell.

He noted that McDonnell had strong approval ratings as governor and that he also polled pretty well as a potential 2016 presidential candidate.

“I think the problem is that anybody going up against Mark Warner historically has had a pretty difficult time getting to 50 [percent],” Farnsworth said, noting the exception with former Sen. John Warner—who earned 52 percent of the vote against Mark Warner in the 1996 U.S. Senate race.

McDonnell’s 52 percent approval rating is a victory of a different sort—against conservatives and anti-tax activists like Grover Norquist who have opposed the transportation funding bill that McDonnell spearheaded.

“McDonnell 1, Norquist 0,” Farnsworth said.

The poll also looked at this year’s gubernatorial race. It indicates Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe are neck-and-neck, consistent with other polls about the race.

The UMW poll puts McAuliffe at 38 percent and Cuccinelli at 37 percent.

Those numbers show that neither man is very well-known to the general public, Farnsworth said.

He also noted that while Cuccinelli is well-known for his conservative positions on social issues, the poll didn’t show a gender gap between the two men.

The poll also questioned people on a variety of other issues.

Seventy-one percent said they would favor a path toward citizenship for undocumented immigrants if that path included background checks, fines and employment requirements.

Fifty-four percent said they would support lowering the federal deficit through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts.

Seventy-two percent said they would back raising the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, something Farnsworth said he thinks is driven by the fact that people are still struggling economically.

Sixty-five percent favor keeping the death penalty for first-degree murder.

Fifty-eight percent support allowing Virginia’s governors to serve two consecutive terms. Virginia is currently the only state that bars governors from a second term, at least consecutively.

Those polled were evenly split, 40–40, on whether the ban on uranium mining in Virginia should be lifted.

They were virtually split on whether gay marriage should be legalized, with 45 percent supporting and 46 percent opposing.

That’s a big difference, Farnsworth said, from the 57 percent of Virginians who voted in 2006 for a Virginia constitutional amendment declaring marriage to be between a man and a woman. That’s an unusually quick swing of opinion for a social issue, Farnsworth said.

“The movement from where Virginia was to where Virginia is now is nothing short of astonishing,” he said.

Farnsworth said the poll responses on issue questions “show purple-state politics.”

Virginians like some conservative ideas, like the death penalty, as well as some more liberal ideas, like pathways to citizenship.

“Overall, I don’t think these results add up to a situation where Virginia’s going to be the next blue state like Maryland anytime soon,” he said.

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028