Gov. Jim Justice enjoys solid political support, Senator Shelley Moore Capito has twice as many people regarding her with approval as disapproval, and Senator Joe Manchin is keeping his head above water in a state that has turned politically red.
That’s according to the latest version of the MetroNews West Virginia Poll, which surveyed 400 registered voters August 20 to 25.
A series of questions asked respondents about their perceptions of top elected officials. And related questions asked respondents for their views of how the nation and state are progressing.
Governor Justice enjoyed the highest job approval levels among the state officials in the questions. Overall, 61 percent said they approve of Justice, while 25 percent expressed disapproval.
The poll showed that 61 percent of Democrats generally approve of Justice’s efforts on the job and 30 percent disapprove. Among Republicans, 69 percent approve and 15 percent disapprove.
The governor’s lowest approval was among liberals and independents with 33 percent of each group registering disapproval.
Justice was first elected governor in 2016 as a Democrat and then changed his registration to Republican in 2017. He then won re-election in 2020.
West Virginia Poll results from last October showed that for Justice, 53.7 percent indicated approval, 35.6 percent indicated disapproval and just 10.7 percent said they’re not sure.
Poll results from August 2019 showed a near dead-even split for Justice on approval, 42 percent approving and 40 percent disapproving with the rest not sure.
Justice has anchored regular livestreamed briefings about West Virginia’s pandemic response over the past year and a half and has gotten generally favorable marks for his handling overall.
“Governor Justice’s approval ratings in office are increasing. They’ve been on an upward slant over the last two or three years of doing West Virginia polls,” said Rex Repass, president of Research America, which conducts the West Virginia Poll.
Fifty-two percent of respondents say they approve of Capito’s job performance, doubling up the 26 percent who say they disapprove.
“She’s double on her approval-disapproval rating, which is significant,” Repass said.
Capito, a Republican, had the strongest approval among members of her own party, 58 percent. But she still pulled in 51 percent support from Democrats, who may be more conservative on the whole in West Virginia than their counterparts nationwide.
“She does well among moderates and more conservative Democrats,” Repass said.
Capito gained 64 percent approval among conservatives and 40 percent among those who described themselves as liberals.
Capito won re-election to the U.S. Senate last year.
Manchin has long been at the top of the Democratic Party in West Virginia even as Republicans increasingly dominated other state political races.
Recent polling shows that he is still above water on favorability. Overall, 42 percent of poll respondents say they approve of Manchin and 37 percent say they disapprove.
“His approval ratings have declined since our last West Virginia Poll,” Repass said. Last October, Manchin registered approval from 44 percent of likely voters, disapproval from 44 percent, and 13 percent said they weren’t sure. In 2019, the poll showed Manchin with 49 percent approval.
Manchin was re-elected to the Senate in the 2018 election and would be on ballots again in 2024.
This year, Manchin has been a fulcrum of power in the 50-50 U.S. Senate, at the center of bipartisan talks about infrastructure policy and the focus of debate over the filibuster.
“There’s no question Senator Manchin is walking a tightwire between the state and the constituents in his state and the greater Democratic Party in Washington,” Repass said.
“Senator Manchin has always been pretty adept at walking that tightwire, but we have seen some dropoff of his job approval rating.”
The latest poll shows Manchin enjoys higher job approval among Democrats with 51 percent and liberals with 47 percent.
His Republican approval is 37 percent, and he has 30 percent approval among independents.
West Virginia was long a reliably Democratic state, but the shift in recent years means West Virginians generally do not embrace the current Democratic president.
The poll shows 58 percent of respondents view President Joe Biden unfavorably with 36 percent viewing Biden favorably.
“Is it someone I’d like to sit down and have a cup of coffee? For West Virginians that is not Joe Biden. It is Donald Trump,” Repass said.
In a similar set of questions, 57 percent said they disapprove of Biden’s job performance and 36 percent said they approve.
Those questions are related, but they get at two different things. Favorability has to do with the personality of the person being assessed, while job performance is the perception of how they are taking on their duties.
In this case, both assessments come out with about the same numbers.
Repass noted the timing of the poll was as a covid surge was growing worse across the nation but not quite at the time of the most chaotic days of the Afghanistan pullout.
Biden’s job approval rating, Repass said, “could be lower over the last couple of days. It’s easy to predict that it would be lower.”
Donald Trump carried West Virginia in the 2020 presidential election with 68.62 percent of the vote. That made West Virginia his second strongest state, behind only Wyoming.
Trump’s support in West Virginia remains strong, as indicated by the recent polling.
Overall, 55 percent of respondents view Trump favorably and 40 percent view him unfavorably.
Among those with the most favorable views of Trump were Republicans with 61 percent and people who consider themselves conservatives with 60 percent.
Trump drew the least favorability among Democrats with 55 percent and liberals with 60 percent.
The nation’s direction
Poll participants were asked for their impressions of the nation’s course.
Sixty-six percent said they believe the country is moving in the wrong direction. Just 34 percent said it is moving in the right direction.
Repass suggested these results are tied in with how West Virginians see Joe Biden and his administration. He noted again that most of the polling was conducted prior to the fall of Afghanistan.
Among Democrats, 61 percent said the nation is headed in the right direction. Among Republicans, 85 percent said it’s moving in the wrong direction.
“What’s interesting is the significant gap between the two,” Repass said of the views between members of the two political parties.
The poll results have come at a particularly tumultuous time, said Marybeth Beller, a political science professor at Marshall University. She said uncertainty is likely reflected by those who are younger or who have less financial means.
“For most of us this is a time of great unease,” Beller said. “In looking at the poll, I could tell that a lot of people that were satisfied tended to be older, tended to be wealthier.”
She said volatility would be felt most by “those who are still dealing with the uncertainty of job markets, particularly in the service sector, and people who have children in the school system whether it’s pre-K to 12 or they’re going back to college right now. It’s just a time of huge uncertainty.”
West Virginia’s direction
Poll participants had a more optimistic view of the state, which is dominated now by Republican officeholders.
“Overall, 54 said the state is moving in the right direction and 47 percent said it’s going in the wrong direction.
“I think it’s the deep red color of the state. There’s also greater satisfaction with the Republican-led legislature overall and still high satisfaction or appeal of President Trump,” Repass said. “That all links together with the increasing conservatism in the state.”
Broken out by political party, 55 percent of Democrats said the state is going in the right direction with 45 percent saying it’s on the wrong track.
A higher number of Republicans, 59 percent, said the state is moving in the right direction. Forty-one percent of Republicans said it’s on the wrong track.
Among independents, just 44 percent said the state is doing well with 59 percent saying wrong track.