June 24, 2024

UMW Survey Shows Virginians Favor Warner in 2014 Senate Race

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner would hold a commanding lead over Gov. Bob McDonnell if the two decide to face off in a U.S. Senate campaign next year, according to a new Virginia survey sponsored by the University of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies.

Warner received 51 percent support, compared to 35 percent for McDonnell, in the survey of 1,004 state residents conducted March 20-24. The remaining respondents were undecided or declined to answer the question. The margin of sampling error is 3.5 percentage points for the complete survey sample.

Data from the survey also includes Virginians’ views of key issues such as gay marriage, the federal deficit and the death penalty.

Warner, a former Virginia governor in his first term in the U.S. Senate, said recently that he plans to run for re-election. McDonnell, whose term-limited tenure as governor expires next January, is the strongest potential Republican challenger to Warner, should he choose to enter the race.

In the survey, McDonnell received 52 percent job approval, comparable to the figure he has received in other recent surveys. Only 26 percent polled say they disapprove of the governor’s job performance.

“The good news for the governor is that state residents continue to think very highly of him,” said Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science at UMW and director of the university’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies. “The bad news is that McDonnell is term-limited and the next statewide election – the 2014 U.S. Senate contest — doesn’t seem all that appealing.”

Despite the disadvantages McDonnell would face against Warner in a Senate contest, many Virginians see the governor as a potential president. While Virginians express the strongest support for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for the 2016 GOP nod, 12 percent of respondents identify McDonnell as their first choice, and another 10 percent rate him as their second choice. (The comparable numbers for Christie show 18 percent name him as a first choice and another 8 percent list him as a second choice).

Many Virginians also view Warner as presidential material, though he lags behind former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton among potential Democratic presidential candidates in 2016. A total of 18 percent rate him as their first choice and another 16 percent list him as their second choice for the nomination, far more than supported Vice President Biden. (The comparable numbers for Clinton show 38 percent favor her as their first choice and another 15 percent say she is their second choice.)

Farnsworth said that the results of the survey, conducted on the center’s behalf by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, provide further evidence that Virginia views its political leaders more favorably than residents of many other states.

“In these tough economic times, a lot of voters have turned on their elected officials, particularly governors,” Farnsworth said. “But Virginia’s last two governors currently hold the state’s two U.S. Senate seats and the current chief executive also continues to fare well in the court of public opinion.”

The survey also shows a dead-heat match in the November 2013 race to be the state’s next governor, with Democratic Terry McAuliffe receiving the support of 38 percent, compared to 37 percent for Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

Further details on the survey’s findings, including key breakdowns by factors including party identification, age and region of residence, are found below.

Warner versus McDonnell

Warner’s substantial advantages over McDonnell in this hypothetical Senate match-up are seen across a variety of elements of the Virginia electorate. Warner is favored by double-digit percentage margins over the governor among men (52 percent to 40 percent, with the rest undecided) and women (56 percent to 34 percent).

Warner also is favored over McDonnell by very similar margins in all five regions of the state. In Tidewater, Warner’s advantage is 56 percent to 37 percent for McDonnell. Warner receives 54 percent support in both northern Virginia and in the western regions of the state, where McDonnell receives 37 percent and 39 percent respectively. Support for the incumbent in northwest Virginia is 53 percent, compared to 34 percent for McDonnell. In his worst region, Warner is favored by 52 percent of the respondents in south central Virginia, which includes the Richmond area, as compared to 36 percent who back McDonnell.

Voters aged 30 to 44 emerge as Warner’s strongest supporters, where he is favored by a margin of 59 percent to 31 percent. Close behind is the 45-64 age group, where the incumbent is favored by 57 as compared to 37 for McDonnell. Respondents under 30 years of age also favor Warner by a double-digit margin: 51 percent to 35 percent. In one of the few bright spots for McDonnell, both he and the incumbent register 46 percent among the high-voting group of residents at least 65 in age.

A great deal of partisan loyalty is evident for these two potential candidates. Warner receives the support of 93 percent of Democrats, with only 4 percent backing McDonnell. The governor fares well among GOP identifiers, winning 83 percent of them, while losing 10 percent of Republicans to Warner. Independents break for Warner by a margin of 51 percent to 33 percent, with the rest undecided.

African-American voters favor Warner by 90 percent, 7 percent of whom back McDonnell. Latinos favor Warner as well, by a margin of 57 percent to 28 percent. McDonnell has a narrow edge among white voters, by a margin of 47 percent to 44 percent (though the percentages were too close to be outside the margin of error).

McAuliffe versus Cuccinelli

Cuccinelli is strongest in western regions of the state, where 48 percent of respondents support him, and 38 percent support McAuliffe, with the rest undecided. Cuccinelli also does relatively well in south central Virginia, which includes the Richmond region, with 42 percent support. McAuliffe gets 38 percent support there.

The Democratic nominee does well in northern Virginia, where he receives 45 percent support, but Cuccinelli, a former state senator from Fairfax County, receives 41 percent support in Washington suburbs. In the state’s northwest, McAuliffe generates 43 percent support, while Cuccinelli receives 39 percent. Tidewater leans to McAuliffe in the survey, by a 43 percent to 36 percent margin.

A gender gap is not evident between these two candidates. Women support McAuliffe by a 41 percent to 39 percent margin for Cuccinelli, while men favor the Republican by a 43 percent to 42 percent margin.

So far, there are few partisan defections in this race. McAuliffe enjoys the support of 83 percent of the Democrats, with only 7 percent of them backing the attorney general. Cuccinelli enjoys the support of 87 percent of the Republicans, with only 4 percent backing the Democrat. Independents are basically split: 36 percent back the attorney general and 35 percent back McAuliffe.


The Virginia Survey March 2013, sponsored by University of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies, obtained telephone interviews with a representative sample of 1,004 adults living in Virginia. Telephone interviews were conducted by landline (502) and cell phone (502, including 245 without a landline phone). The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI). Interviews were done in English by Princeton Data Source from March 20 to 24, 2013. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is ± 3.5 percentage points.

For more information, contact:  Stephen J. Farnsworth by cell at (703) 380-3025 or by emailing him at sfarnswo@umw.edu.

About Brynn Boyer

Brynn Boyer is assistant director of media and public relations and a 2010 graduate of UMW.