CHARLESTON, W.Va. — On the heels of Gov. Jim Justice’s party switch, more West Virginians now disapprove of the governor than approve of him, according to the latest MetroNews West Virginia Poll.
The latest version of the poll, released today, shows that 34 percent approve of Justice as governor while 44 percent disapprove. Twenty-two percent of those who responded are not sure.
“You do have reaction to the party change that creates negativity potentially,” said professional pollster Rex Repass, who constructed the questions for the West Virginia Poll. “So I think he’s in transition from being an ultra successful business person to a governmental leader.”
The popularity of Justice, a billionaire businessman before being elected governor last year, is one of several assessments of political figures through interviews with 400 likely voters in West Virginia conducted between August 11-20.
This version of the poll showed that in that snapshot, President Donald Trump’s popularity remains high in West Virginia compared to the rest of the nation — although not as high as some other polls have indicated.
The poll also shows support more split than usual for Senator Shelley Moore Capito with support remaining solid for Senator Joe Manchin leading into a competitive race for the seat he holds.
Governor Jim Justice
It was Justice who fared the worst in the poll’s results among registered Democrats, Republicans, Libertarian, Mountain Party and unaffiliated or independent voters.
Likely voters in all 55 West Virginia counties were represented in the survey, modeled to the number of registered voters based on data from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office.
Justice, who won office convincingly last November as a Democrat, switched parties to Republican on August. 3 at a rally in Huntington for President Donald Trump. The governor cited his close relationship with the Trump family as well as his disappointment with Democratic lawmakers during this past legislative session.
The polling period occurred during the fallout of Justice’s staff, such as his firing of Democratic chief of staff Nick Casey. The period also included Justice’s absence from the Capitol to recover from an infection.
The deeper statistics within the poll results show party affiliation with a major effect on Justice’s overall popularity.
Of those who described themselves as Democrats, 27 percent said they approve of Justice with 51 percent disapproving. Of those who described themselves as liberals, 23.8 percent approve and 56.4 percent disapprove.
But support remains lukewarm among those in his new party.
Of those who describe themselves as Republicans, 45.4 percent approve and 35.5 percent disapprove. Of those who describe themselves as conservative, 39.5 percent approve and 37.7 percent disapprove.
Those who said they aren’t sure about Justice one way or another ranged between about 20 and 30 percent in all categories.
“There are two stories going on, which is how upset the Democrats are and the reluctance of the Republicans. So in a sense he’s jumped to the other side but they haven’t totally accepted him,” said political science professor Robert Rupp of West Virginia Wesleyan College, who was asked to draw conclusions from the West Virginia Poll results.
“That has understandable context. It’s OK to fight a one-front war, but you can’t fight a two-front war.”
The governor’s relatively low popularity could make big issues like the statewide road bond vote coming up October 8 a difficult sell.
“It’s not only in trouble for the governor himself as executive leader when he has trouble with both parties, including his newly adopted one, but it also signals trouble for the upcoming road bond issue that he has basically staked his legislative success on,” Rupp said.
“This is not good news for him, particularly given the timing and late mobilization of the pro-bond effort. It was thought he could be an asset because he was thought to be highly popular when he was elected. But he has lost popularity.”
Speaking to state leaders on Wednesday at the Business Summit at The Greenbrier, which his family owns, Justice was critical of politics for politics’ sake.
“I’ve got to have one thing from you and one thing alone,” Justice told the crowd. “I’ve got to have your support, wholeheartedly naturally. But we’ve got to stop the political garbage. We’ve got to stop the political games. We’ve got to all be one and that is West Virginians, wanting to do something other than to be dead last.”
President Donald Trump
Trump shows solid support in the West Virginia Poll, although it’s actually less than other national polls have shown as his support here.
The West Virginia Poll shows 48 percent approval for Trump along with 39 percent disapproval.
“Realistically, I think the president is popular here,” Repass said, acknowledging different results and different methodologies among polls may still lead to the same overall conclusion. “He has a strong core of support here.”
A Gallup Poll that showed results between Jan. 20 and June 30 reflected 60 percent popularity for Trump in West Virginia. That was highest in the nation.
Trump’s most recent national approval ratings as measured by Gallup were at 35 percent. Fifty-nine percent nationally said they disapprove of his performance as president. The most recent results, based on a three-day rolling average, were posted August 29.
Trump won West Virginia last November with 67.9 percent of the vote. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won 26.2 percent of the vote here.
So, reacting to the numbers, Rupp was surprised that the West Virginia Poll results showed Trump’s popularity lower here than he would have thought.
“I’m skeptical of that,” Rupp said. “That’s not the West Virginia I’ve been seeing. Everybody slips, but he has such a special relationship with West Virginia, I would think more than half would approve of him.”
Trump’s popularity in West Virginia varies significantly based on party affiliation.
Those who identified as Democrats showed 24.7 percent approval and 67.1 percent disapproval.
Those who identified as Republicans showed 80.1 percent approval and 9.2 percent disapproval.
Self-described moderates were more evenly divided on Trump. Of those, 38.7 percent said they approve of Trump and 45.3 percent said they disapprove.
Senator Shelley Moore Capito
Capito, a longtime Republican leader in West Virginia, has had to perform a balancing act during the Trump administration and the numbers might reflect that.
Forty percent of those responding said they approve of Capito while 38 percent say they disapprove.
Even though Capito has held political office in West Virginia since her election to the state Legislature in 1996 leading all the way to her election to Senate in 2014, 22 percent of those responding said they’re “not sure” about Capito.
“I think she is trying to balance the interests of her political experience and also balance the Republican policies of a Donald Trump and the mood of West Virginians,” Repass said. “It is a tough balancing act. I think it has had an impact where Trump is popular.”
The polling took place on the heels of contentious debate over repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act in the Senate.
Capito expressed deep concerns about the possible effects of rolling back Medicaid expansion in West Virginia. But she also was among those voting affirmatively for “skinny repeal” on federal healthcare that could have pushed the matter to conference committee negotiations with the House of Representatives.
Threading the political needle on contentious policy in a state where Trump is at his most popular has been tricky.
“This is the lowest she’s been since she’s been in political office,” Rupp said of the West Virginia Poll results. “This is a person who has run a popular and successful political career. What we’re finding here is a number of issues from the Trump administration have undermined her support within the voting.”
Those who describe themselves as conservative expressed 49.4 percent approval and 29 percent disapproval for Capito.
Liberals expressed 54.5 percent disapproval and 28.7 percent approval.
Moderates expressed 38 percent approval, 35.8 percent disapproval and 26.3 percent “not sure.”
“She’s kind of caught in the crossfire of what’s happening in the administration. It’s alienating some – not many or all – of her support and mobilizing some of her opposition that has usually not been that enthusiastic about defeating her,” Rupp said.
“Successful politicians are getting crossfire not just from the party opposition but from within the party itself. This is probably happening across the nation if we looked at it.”
Senator Joe Manchin
Manchin, coming up on a competitive re-election bid that seems likely to draw national attention, showed firm support in the West Virginia Poll.
Of those responding, 51 percent said they approve of Manchin with 34 percent expressing disapproval.
Manchin has been a mainstay as a statewide officeholder in West Virginia dating back to his election as Secretary of State in 2001.
But he’s West Virginia’s lone remaining Democrat in Congress, causing some pundits to describe 2018 as the toughest election of his career.
Two prominent Republicans — Congressman Evan Jenkins and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey — are vying to take on Manchin.
“Manchin fighting for his life — the last Blue Dog, the last Democratic senator,” Rupp said. “This is filled with drama because he’s going against the tide. What do you do when your’re Democrat running in a state that seems to adore a Republican president?”
Manchin shows 62.7 percent approval and 24.1 percent disapproval among the Democrats in the poll. Respondents who described themselves as liberals expressed 55.4 percent approval and 24.8 percent disapproval.
Among Republicans, he shows 44 percent approval and 40.4 percent disapproval. Those who described themselves as conservatives expressed 44.4 percent approval and 41.4 percent disapproval.
“I think what you can see is that liberal Democrats who have always distrusted him are coming around now that he’s under siege,” Rupp said. “So I would expect that the Democratic numbers of his support are only going to go up as the election comes closer.”
Like Capito, Manchin has been performing a balancing act during the Trump administration — except from the other side of the aisle — embracing some of the administration’s nominations and policies when it’s a fit and rejecting others. He was the subject of a recent article in “The Atlantic” called “What Joe Manchin can teach Democrats.”
“I think Senator Manchin does have the flexibility to align with very conservative West Virginia voters and also to support some of the more moderate Democratic policies and be credible,” Repass said.
There’s still a majority registration in this state, even though it’s a more conservative state, of more Democrats. I think he understands that and balances the interest of his constituents and his party in a very positive way.”
How Manchin may fare against Jenkins and Morrisey. Plus the relative popularity of football and basketball coaches at West Virginia and Marshall universities.
Results of this edition of MetroNews West Virginia Poll are based on interviews conducted between August 11-20, 2017 with a sample of 400 likely voters in West Virginia including registered Democrats, Republicans, Libertarian, Mountain Party, and unaffiliated or independent voters. Data collection methods used included landline phone, cell phone, and opt-in Internet panel. Each data collection method has inherent strengths and weakness.
Likely voters in all 55 West Virginia counties were represented in the survey modeled to the number of registered voters based on data from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office.
When using multiple data collection methods, it is not appropriate to apply a probability-based margin of error to interviews completed. However, applying statistical tests of significance to each question asked at the 95 percent confidence interval yields an overall statistical error of +/- 4.9 percentage points based on the 400 interviews. The 95 percent confidence interval varies by question.
The purpose of the MetroNews West Virginia Poll is to provide a snapshot of opinion and timely voter views in the Mountain State. The media sponsor of the West Virginia Poll is MetroNews, the statewide radio network owned by West Virginia Radio Corporation.
Rex Repass is director of the West Virginia Poll and president of Research America Inc. Repass is responsible for questionnaire design, the respondent screening and selection process, data tabulation, statistical analysis, and reporting of results.
The MetroNews West Virginia Poll is a non-partisan survey of public opinion conducted by the Repass and Research America Inc. The West Virginia Poll has been directed by Mr. Repass and conducted periodically since January 21, 1980. The name The West Virginia Poll is a registered trademark Research America Inc., all rights reserved. For more information, see www.wvpoll.com.