CHARLESTON, W.Va. — If Senator Joe Manchin were to enter the race for governor, right now he would beat incumbent Gov. Jim Justice, according to the latest version of the MetroNews Dominion Post West Virginia Poll.
In a theoretical head-to-head matchup, 49 percent of respondents said they would vote for Manchin while 39 percent said they would vote for Justice. The final 12 percent said they are not sure.
Manchin, a Democrat, has said he will announce after Labor Day whether he intends to run for a return to the Governor’s Office.
Manchin was a big supporter of Justice, who was elected as a Democrat before switching parties. But in recent months, Manchin has been publicly critical of Justice’s work habits as governor.
“If Senator Manchin were to enter the governor’s race and be the Democratic nominee, there’s no question he has historically strong support in the state. And generally his positions on issues resonate with West Virginia voters,” said Rex Repass, president of Research America Inc.
“However, if he were to decide to run for governor in 2020, he does have some headwinds to overcome.”
Repass, whose company produces the West Virginia Poll, said the challenges for Manchin could come from both sides of the political spectrum.
Because Manchin is considered a moderate to conservative Democrat, he could find difficulty resonating with the liberal wing of the party during a primary election. Stephen Smith, a current Democratic candidate, has been an active campaigner and fundraiser.
On the other side, a Manchin campaign could be challenged by President Donald Trump, a Republican with a 54 percent approval rating West Virginia who is close with Justice.
“He’s going to have to face the fact that President Trump is going to likely be here, stumping for the Republican candidate for governor,” Repass said.
“So while Senator Manchin is a strong brand in this trial heat, this hypothetical race, he does have some challenges, if he were to decide to run.”
The West Virginia Poll was conducted between August 14-22 with a sample of 501 registered voters. The overall confidence interval for the survey is +/- 4.4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.
Separate questions in the West Virginia Poll focused on job approval.
The West Virginia Poll shows that Manchin has 49 percent net approval and 37 percent net disapproval. The rest aren’t sure.
Last year, Manchin was at 43 percent net approval.
“He had somewhat of a steady climb since 2014,” Repass said. “That’s when he was at his lowest point.”
Justice has a net approval of 42 percent, according to the poll. He has a net disapproval of 40 percent. The rest say they are not sure.
Those numbers are about the same as this time last year.
“There’s been very little change on the governor’s approval rating since we asked this last,” Repass said.
Justice’s campaign pointed to its own polling released Thursday evening. The campaign’s polling company, Public Opinion Strategies, shows 63 percent approval by likely GOP primary voters.
The parts of the Justice poll that were released did not include numbers for a possible matchup against Manchin.
Justice has primary challengers including Woody Thrasher, the former state Commerce secretary, and Mike Folk, a former state delegate.
West Virginia’s primary election is May 12, 2020.
At the moment, Justice has an advantage in the primary over the other candidates.
Of Republicans and independent voters who say they will ask for a GOP ballot, 53 percent favor Justice, 19 percent favor Thrasher, 12 percent go for Folk and the rest aren’t sure.
“It is very early,” Repass said. “Governor Justice has high name recognition and you would expect that.”
But Justice’s approval rating indicates to Repass that as time goes by — and as the other candidates develop more name recognition — he is vulnerable.
“This many months in advance, you would expect the sitting governor to have support at the 50 percent range among registered voters,” Repass said.
The Justice campaign’s own polling also showed the incumbent governor with a substantial early lead over the other challengers. The pollster for Justice concluded that Thrasher is not well known.
The Thrasher campaign, in turn, pointed to its own polling numbers by WPA Intelligence, which showed Justice’s popularity declining while Thrasher’s name recognition increases.
“Our polling numbers, our early fundraising totals and conversations every day continue to tell us conservative voters all over the state appreciate what they are learning about Woody Thrasher, and they are hungry for a full-time, dedicated governor they can trust to lead our state,” stated Ann Ali, spokeswoman for the Thrasher campaign.
Folk, a three-term delegate from Martinsburg, also issued a statement saying his message is resonating with Republicans as he appears at events around the state.
“Once people hear my message and I have the opportunity to answer questions, they usually are supportive of my ideas to move West Virginia forward and away from the policies of the past that my two opponents represent,” Folk stated.
He continued, “Any polling at this time is premature in predicting the outcome of this race. If it were a football game, we’d be early in the second quarter at most.”
The West Virginia Poll assessed the popularity of others too.
President Trump has net approval of 54 percent in West Virginia, according to the poll. Net disapproval for Trump is 38 percent, with the remainder not sure.
From prior polling, Repass said, “he’s down 6 percentage points. But on a net-net basis it’s still 16 points plus on the positive versus negative.”
People tend to feel strongly one way or another about Trump, Repass said.
“He has a love-disdain relationship with voters.”
Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who is up for re-election next year, has 51 percent net approval. She has 25 percent net disapproval, with the rest undecided.
West Virginians are fairly evenly divided about the two chambers at the Legislature.
On the state Senate, 31 percent say they approve, 38 percent disapprove and 31 percent are not sure.
On the House of Delegates, 30 percent approve, 33 percent disapprove and 37 percent aren’t sure.
The Legislature has had high-profile controversies the past couple of years.
Teachers strikes during two legislative sessions filled the Capitol. Last year, the majority in the House of Delegates votes to impeach the entire state Supreme Court.
Despite those high-profile issues, significant numbers didn’t express an opinion about the Legislature’s performance.
“It’s essentially split on approval/disapproval,” Repass said. “I know there’s a lot in Charleston on reporting and discussion, perhaps around the state. But apparently there’s only a little more than half the population paying much attention.”
Results of this edition of MetroNews West Virginia Poll are based on interviews conducted between August 14-22, 2018 with a sample of 501 registered voters in West Virginia including registered Democrats, Republicans, Libertarian, Mountain Party, and unaffiliated or independent voters. Data collection was completed online with purchased sample of registered voters.
Registered voters in all 55 West Virginia counties were sampled for the survey and modeled to the number of registered voters based on data from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office.
When using sample of registered voters and online data collection 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 +/- 4.4 percentage points based on the 501 interviews. The 95 percent confidence interval varies by question.
The purpose of the 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 Radio Network.
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 Repass and Research America Inc. The West Virginia Poll has been directed by Repass and conducted periodically since January 21, 1980. The name The West Virginia Poll is a trademark owned by Research America Inc., all rights reserved.