CHARLESTON, W.Va. – If the November election were staged today, incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin would defeat his challenger, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, according to the latest MetroNews Dominion Post West Virginia Poll.
The poll that was released Friday showed Manchin, the Democrat who has served in the Senate since 2010, with a 46 percent to 38 percent edge on the Republican Morrisey.
Another 16 percent of likely voters said they still aren’t sure.
“Morrisey is behind by about 8 percentage points, but if you look at the voters most interested in the election, that lead shrinks,” said pollster Rex Repass, who constructed the questions for the West Virginia Poll. “Morrisey could have more of an advantage in the intensity factor or the enthusiasm factor.”
The West Virginia Poll surveyed 404 people likely registered voters from all 55 counties.
The survey was conducted between Aug.16-26. President Donald Trump, a likely factor in the race, visited West Virginia to rally with Morrisey on Aug. 21 in the middle of the polling period.
Much is at stake in the high-profile race, with Republicans holding a majority of 51 seats in the U.S. Senate. Democrats hold 47 with two independents whom caucus with Democrats.
“I have it as tossup because I don’t have any decent polls since the primary,” said Jennifer Duffy of Cook Political Report.
“If I had to put a thumb on the scale today, I would put it on the scale for Manchin. I think that’s pretty clear. But we’re just kind of coming into campaign season.”
Duffy said she would be taking a close look at the West Virginia Poll results.
“It’s one of the first we will have seen or one of the first that’s pretty credible post-primary,” she said on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
The West Virginia Poll shows significant differences between Manchin and Morrisey in terms of voter perception.
Morrisey has net approval of 31 percent and net disapproval of 36 percent. Thirty-three percent aren’t sure about Morrisey.
“The image, the perception of Patrick Morrisey is still being built,” Repass said.
Manchin has net approval of 43 percent of respondents, according to the West Virginia Poll. Thirty-nine percent disapprove of Manchin. Eighteen percent aren’t sure.
Although Manchin is more popular overall, the West Virginia Poll shows that his job approval ratings have decreased over the past year and that overall disapproval of Manchin is at a 5-year high.
“This suggests this race for the Senate could tighten up,” Repass said. “Voters are looking very critically at Senator Manchin and his record.”
The poll shows that Morrisey would have lost some voters in the race for U.S. Senate if former coal CEO Don Blankenship had been on the ballot.
Blankenship placed third in the Republican primary and then tried to gain ballot access for the General Election through the Constitution Party. The state Supreme Court ruled this week that West Virginia’s “sore loser” law would apply to such cases, denying Blankenship ballot access.
The West Virginia Poll shows that if Blankenship had been on the ballot, he would have pulled significant support from Morrisey voters.
In those circumstances, the poll shows Manchin with 45 percent, Morrisey with 34 percent, Blankenship with 8 percent and 13 percent unsure.
That jibes with Duffy’s perception.
“If he had gotten on the ballot, I likely would have moved the race to lean Democratic,” she said. “I think he would have taken enough vote to affect Morrisey.”
In a generic ballot, West Virginia’s likely voters are more likely to prefer a Republican Congress. The poll shows 47 percent feel that way, while 32 percent prefer a Congress with a Democratic majority. Twenty-one percent aren’t sure.
Party preference for control of the West Virginia Legislature also significantly favors Republicans.
Forty-five percent of respondents said they would prefer a Republican-controlled Legislature. Thirty-four percent would prefer Democratic control of the Legislature. And 22 percent described themselves as unsure.
The West Virginia Poll also asked about the popularity of other officeholders.
A year after switching parties from Democrat to Republican, Gov. Jim Justice’s job approval ratings have climbed to 43 percent/ Thirty-seven percent disapprove, and 20 percent aren’t sure.
Last year, not long after he announced he would switch parties, only 34 percent approved of the governor’s performance and 44 percent disapproved.
“I believe voters were considering how they feel about that when we were doing polling last August,” Repass said.
U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s approval also climbed compared to about this time last year, the poll shows.
Forty-seven percent expressed approval of Capito, a Republican. That’s up from about 40 percent last year.
Last year’s polling took place on the heels of contentious debate over the repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act in the Senate.
This year’s poll shows 28 percent disapprove of Capito. Twenty-five percent said they aren’t sure about Capito, who has held political office in West Virginia since 1996.
Likely voters in West Virginia approve of President Trump’s job performance.
Trump’s approval rating in West Virginia is 60 percent, the poll shows, while 33 percent disapprove of Trump and 7 percent unsure.
That compares to 41 percent national approval for Trump.
That’s a big reason Duffy believes Trump will be back in West Virginia before Election Day.
“I think you’ll see a lot of him in West Virginia,” Duffy said. “I think you’ll see him a number of times between now and Nov. 6.”