One of the persistent political questions over the last couple of months has been whether Democratic Senator Joe Manchin’s push for more gun control has cost him in his home state. A just-released poll by Republican strategist Mark Blankenship finds that Manchin’s overall approval ratings have dropped from 70 percent last March to 63 percent now.
The simplistic conclusion is that Manchin’s advocacy for expanded background checks for gun purchases has dug into his substantial support in a strong gun rights state. However, Blankenship insists that a closer look at his numbers doesn’t necessarily bear that out.
First, Blankenship maintains that a swing of five to ten points in approval, particularly at a time when there’s no campaign underway, may just be a temporary blip. The true test will be if the next poll shows Manchin’s approval numbers continuing to slide.
Additionally, Blankenship says that Manchin’s approval to disapproval ratio remains at nearly three to one, and there’s been no notable rise in the percentage of voters who strongly or somewhat disapprove of the job he’s doing.
Meanwhile, 67 percent of those questioned either strongly support or somewhat support Manchin’s gun control legislation, while only 30 percent somewhat oppose or strongly oppose. Blankenship believes the high approval numbers in West Virginia for additional background checks mean Manchin does not appear to be paying a high political price.
“It’s a scratch,” Blankenship told me. “You can’t use these numbers to conclude that gun control hurt Manchin.”
The poll also found a ten point drop (64 percent to 54 percent from March to now) in the approval rating of Republican Congresswoman and U.S. Senate candidate Shelley Moore Capito. Again, Blankenship is reluctant to attach too much significance to the shift.
“Capito should be cognizant of the dip, but her disapproval (number) is not dramatically higher,” Blankenship said. Both Capito and Manchin show a “consistency of strength.”
For the first time, Blankenship included Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in his questions about the 2014 Senate race. The MBE numbers show a 40 percent plurality for her in that race with state Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis getting 12 percent. Neither Tennant nor Davis has decided whether to run for the Senate.
Charleston attorney Nick Preservati and Wheeling attorney Ralph Baxter each picked up only one percent, but that’s not surprising. Neither is very well known, even in tight political circles, nor has either entered the race yet.
If anybody should be doing the victory dance after the MBE poll, it’s Earl Ray Tomblin. The Democratic Governor has a job approval rate of 69 percent, unchanged from the March poll.
Even more comforting to Tomblin is that West Virginian’s don’t blame him for the state’s economic challenges. When asked which elected officials are most responsible for job losses in West Virginia, only three percent said Tomblin. 49 percent blame President Obama.