President Barack Obama (46 percent) clings to a 2-point lead over Republican challenger Mitt Romney (44 percent), in a swing-state nail-biter, according to a Suffolk University/NBC12 (WWBT-Richmond) poll of likely general-election voters in Virginia. Seven percent were undecided.
The race is close – with survey results within the statistical margin of error – despite a decided popularity advantage for Obama. He boasted a +8 (52 percent favorable to 44 percent unfavorable) to Romney’s -3 (42 percent favorable to 45 percent unfavorable).
“Barack Obama shows personal popularity and strength, especially outside of the D.C. area in northern Virginia,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “However, with job approval and head-to-head numbers stuck at 46 percent, it will be a significant challenge for Obama to convince the remaining undecided voters to re-elect him.”
Of the other three presidential candidates remaining on the Virginia ballot, Constitution Party nominee Virgil Goode and Libertarian Gary Johnson each received 1 percent, while Green Party candidate Jill Stein tallied less than 1 percent.
As Obama and Romney prepare for their first televised debate next Wednesday, Old Dominion voters are expecting Obama to best Romney, with 46 percent saying that Obama is the better debater and 19 percent selecting Romney.
“Barack Obama comes into the debate phase of the election with very high expectations, which may be difficult to meet or exceed,” said Paleologos. “A credible performance by Romney could shake up the presidential race in Virginia and elsewhere.”
Economy is top issue
The economy/jobs (51 percent), was the most important issue to voters, followed by health care (14 percent) and education (10 percent). A majority of voters (51 percent) said that Obamacare would be generally bad for Virginia.
U.S. Senate race
In the open race for U.S. Senate, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen are tied at 44 percent following a Sept. 20 debate that most voters (88 percent) said they did not watch. Of those who did tune in, 47 percent said that Kaine did better than Allen (41 percent).
Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell is personally popular (46 percent favorable to 23 percent unfavorable). However, voters reject his signing of a bill that requires women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound (50 percent oppose to 33 percent support). By a wider margin (56 percent to 32 percent), voters said that policies promoting sex education in school and providing wider access to birth control could effectively reduce the number of abortions in Virginia.
Fifty percent said there is no benefit to a divided government, with one party in control of Congress and the other in control of the White House, while 34 percent said that having the branches divided by party is a good thing.
“Cross-over voters beware: This poll finding raises the stakes for Obama-Kaine or Romney-Allen in a commonwealth that could tip both the red-blue coloring of the electoral map and the Senate majority,” said Paleologos.
Even given the close race, Obama is winning the perception game. When voters were asked who they thought would be elected president, 53 percent said Obama, and 30 percent said Romney.
In the 2009 Virginia governor’s race, Suffolk polling recorded a 14-point landslide win for Republican Bob McDonnell. He won by 17.5 points. In the 2008 presidential election in Virginia, Suffolk polling predicted a Barack Obama win with 51 percent of the vote. Obama received 52.6 percent.
The statewide survey of 600 likely Virginia general-election voters was conducted Sept. 24-26, using live telephone interviews of landline and cell phone users. The margin of error is +/-4 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence. Marginals and cross-tabulation data will be posted at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, on the Suffolk University Political Research Center Web site. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310, or follow on twitter