CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Name recognition continues to give Gov. Jim Justice an advantage against his Republican primary opponents.
The most recent version of the MetroNews West Virginia Poll shows that among likely voters in next spring’s Republican primary, 56.3 percent currently favor Justice.
That compares to 20.5 percent for Republican challenger Woody Thrasher and 10.5 percent for Mike Folk, another GOP candidate.
“Governor Justice leads his two challengers by significant margins at this early date,” said pollster Rex Repass, president of Research America Inc., which conducts the West Virginia Poll.
Justice’s campaign put out an outline of its own polling this week, showing relative strength compared to the challengers.
Folk, in a telephone interview this morning, said he doubts the gap is really that big.
“I’m very skeptical,” Folk said. “It doesn’t jibe with my poll. Let me put it that way.”
Justice was elected in 2016 as a Democratic candidate before switching parties six months after taking office. He is among the least popular governors in America, according to Morning Consult, which maintains a regular list.
Justice has a 42 percent approval rating and a 47 percent disapproval rating, according to Morning Consult.
That generally aligns with earlier results from The West Virginia Poll.
“There’s no way based on his polling of favorability that he’s above 50 percent,” Folk said.
But Justice has a big advantage in name recognition.
As the incumbent governor, Justice is in the news almost every day. He also has been out around the state, leading town hall meetings and participating in ceremonial activities such as presenting grants to communities.
And Justice has an even longer history in the spotlight as West Virginia’s richest man and owner of the historic Greenbrier Resort.
The West Virginia Poll shows that 79 percent of likely voters have heard “a great deal” or “a lot” about Justice.
Only 18 percent cite that much familiarity with Thrasher, a businessman who served as state Commerce Secretary for Justice before being pushed out of that role.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they have heard “very little” or “nothing at all” about Thrasher.
“There is a correlation between awareness and knowledge of a candidate and consideration of a candidate for that position,” Repass said. “Woody Thrasher is just not well known around the state.”
For Folk, a former state Delegate from Martinsburg, only 9 percent described significant familiarity.
And 76 percent said they are unfamiliar with Folk.
That means the two challengers have ground to make up prior to the May 12, 2020, primary, which is five months from today.
“Even through there is roughly a 50-50 job approval rating for Jim Justice,” Repass said, “it is still a challenge to overcome when there is low name recognition for either of the other two candidates.
“As we get closer and more campaigning of various forms takes place these numbers will likely change.”
Each of the GOP candidates has loaned significant personal money to power their campaigns, according to the most recent numbers available from the West Virginia Secretary of State. New campaign finance reports are due after the end of this month.
Justice loaned $194,000 to his own campaign during the last filing period. He later had a fundraiser featuring Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son.
Justice has released two similar advertisements in recent weeks, with each featuring snippets of people describing his attributes.
The Justice re-election campaign touted some internal polling results this week, highlighting the governor’s approval among GOP voters, close relationship with President Trump and early lead over the two challengers.
“Governor Justice is running an aggressive campaign, traveling across the state, talking with West Virginians about the issues most important to them,” Justice campaign spokesman Roman Stauffer stated in an update Wednesday.
Thrasher reported $254,330 in fundraising for the most recent period while loaning his campaign another $285,000. He has been advertising on television and radio for months, contrasting his work habits with Justice’s. Thrasher also has been making regular appearances at town halls and community gatherings.
Thrasher, speaking this morning on “Talk of the Town” on WAJR AM, said his campaign hears “widespread support for our campaign and very little support for the governor.”
He said that extends to the condition of the roads and perception of a slow response to the state’s drug addiction crisis.
“Disheartened is a good word on how the governor is running the state,” Thrasher said, “and I think we get that everywhere we go.”
Folk loaned his campaign $90,000 and then released an ad that takes aim at both Justice and Thrasher, describing himself as the only true conservative choice.
“I’m the only one who has ever been elected as a Republican and has a record to prove it,” Folk said.
But, he acknowledged, “I have to do some more advertising. I’m not oblivious to the fact that I’m not going to be able to spend a million dollars.”
Repass agreed that challenging Justice will first require a strong effort at generating name recognition.
“From my experience in understanding voter preference, as well as the marketing research we do, you’d better create awareness before you’re considered,” Repass said.
“As voters have more information, more awareness in these candidates they’re likely to increase. However, they’re running against a Republican governor – his favorable unfavorable are fairly equal – but he is an incumbent Republican governor in a red state.”
Results of this edition of MetroNews West Virginia Poll are based on interviews conducted between Dec. 4 to 10, 2019 with a sample of 500 West Virginia registered voters who are likely to vote in the May 2020 primary, including registered Democrats, Republicans, Libertarian, Mountain Party, and unaffiliated or independent voters. Data collection was completed online and by telephone with purchased sample of registered voters who are likely to vote in primaries.
Registered likely 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 hybrid data collection (online and telephone) 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 500 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.