It’s proving difficult to get an accurate read on how West Virginians plan to vote in the upcoming road bond election.
We’ve taken a crack at it in the latest edition of the MetroNews West Virginia Poll and results do point toward passage. Our survey found that 67 percent of likely voters questioned say they support the bond, while only 19 percent are against and 14 percent are not sure.
That would seem to make passage of the $1.6 billion bond a slam dunk, but that’s not necessarily the case. Early voting begins September 22 and Election Day is October 7.
As pollster Rex Repass points out, his survey sample came from the historical list of likely voters. That’s about 615,000 of the 1.2 million registered voters in the state. Of those consistent voters, 51 percent of those questioned say they are extremely likely to vote in the election while 32 percent say they are very likely to vote.
If all those people actually voted, the turnout would be above 40 percent and the bond would pass easily, but history tells us that is not going to happen. The turnout for single-issue special elections is typically very low, often between 10 to 15 percent.
Repass explains that the “likely voter” category ends up artificially higher for several reasons: some respondents don’t want to admit that they may not vote and a number of voters who regularly go to the polls on Election Day just may not make it out for a single-issue election.
What our poll does show, however, is that there is a core of support among potential voters; the key for the Justice administration and organizations that support the bond is to energize at least some of those potential voters.
That’s a challenge because how do you identify those people who will actually vote? Let’s say the turnout is 15 percent. That’s only 92,000 of likely voters. There’s not enough time or money to identify the individuals who will absolutely vote and direct the pro-bond information to them.
The bond supporters do have one thing going for them; there is not yet any well-organized opposition. Anecdotally it is evident that some West Virginians who oppose additional debt or don’t trust the Department of Highways to spend the money wisely are against the bond, but we also don’t know how motivated they will be to go to the polls.
Repass makes another key point: The bond supporters should not make this a referendum on Jim Justice. Our poll last week found his approval rating is down to 34 percent, while 48 percent disapprove of the job he is doing.
Bond supporters need to make this election about fixing the roads and putting people to work without any new taxes. Those are positives that resonate with voters. The question is whether enough of those voters are motivated to actually go to the polls.