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Excerpts: Post reporter, polling analyst answer questions

Post reporter Anita Kumar, who has been trailing the Deeds campaign, and Post polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta were online earlier today to discuss the Virginia governor's race and the week remaining in it. Read the full transcript or check out some excerpts from the chat below.

Fairfax County, Va.: Looking at the poll story and the graphics and table provided, it appears that Deeds is polling about as well in northern Virginia as, say, Mark Warner, but doing much worse in the rest of the state than anybody else you list -- Barack Obama, Tim Kaine, or Warner. Yet Deeds is the guy who's emphatically not from northern Virginia (admittedly Kaine isn't either). What gives?

washingtonpost.com: McDonnell's edge over Deeds grows stronger (Post, Oct. 27)

Jennifer Agiesta: Thanks for the question, Fairfax! The regional split is one of the most interesting things we found in this last poll. Deeds' victory in the primary seemed to be more about his electability and appeal outside of the DC suburbs than his positions on the issues, and that bit of strategic voting by Virginia Democrats may have backfired.

Conventional wisdom says a Democrat needs to win around 60 percent of the votes in Northern Virginia to win statewide, but that assumes the candidate can run closely with his or her opponent in the rest of the state, and Deeds is clearly lagging behind other successful Democrats on that front. Outside of Northern Virginia, half of all likely voters call Deeds "too liberal," and McDonnell has whopping advantages on handling taxes (32 points), transportation and the economy (25 points), and issues of special concern to women (17 points). Even in the western part of the state (which includes his home in Bath County) Deeds trails McDonnell in the race by 27 points.

Arlington, Va.: Your Virginia poll sample had even numbers of self-identified R's and D's, yet your national polls consistently have 10-12 percent more D's than R's. How do these swings in your sample populations not affect the accuracy of your polling data?

Jennifer Agiesta: Hi Arlington, the share of Democrats and Republicans in our polling is not something we determine in advance. Party identification can be a fluid thing, so we interview a random selection of adults in the state, and let them tell us what their party leanings are.

Most of the results from this poll, including the near-even party ID split you reference (31 percent Democrat to 30 percent Republican), were reported among likely voters. Our national polls are typically among all adults, and that explains much of the difference. Looking at all adults in this Virginia poll, the partisan breakdown (33 percent Democrat to 24 percent Republican) looks more like what we get in our national polling (33 percent Democrat to 20 percent Republican in our poll last week) than does the result among likely voters.

Fairfax Station, Va.: Polls predict a McDonnell win that could have down ballot impact. With redistricting in 2011 and Democrats controlling the state Senate by at least one vote and Republicans continuing to control the House of Delegates by a comfortable margin, what will be the likely impact on Virginia politics in the next decade? What will this election mean for Jim Moran and Gerry Connolly in 2010 and 2012?

Anita Kumar: You are correct. Polls predict that if Bob McDonnell wins then both Bill Bolling and Ken Cuccinelli may also win for lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively. The Republicans are also predicting big wins in the House of Delegates -- perhaps as many as five seats. That would leave the General Assembly divided between the Republicans and Democrats in 2010 for redistricting -- which could make for some interesting fights next year. But remember that could change if McDonnell wins and lures a couple conservative Democratic senators into his administration in an attempt to turn control of the Senate back to the Republicans. The same thing happened when Jim Gilmore became governor and it could happen again. Also, three senators are on the ballot -- Deeds, Cuccinelli and Ken Stolle (who is running for sheriff in the Hampton Roads area)and those seats could switch party in special elections. But the bottom line is losses next week would definitely change the dynamics in state government for years to come. Democrats have been building on sucesses since 2001 and while huge losses wouldn't wipe them out, they would have a lot of rebuilding to do.

Washington, D.C.: I'm curious whether either of you is a Virginia resident and thus has a stake in the coverage of the Virginia race? If so, do you plan to vote?

Anita Kumar: I am a Virginia resident. I work in our bureau in Richmond, where I also own a home. (I am also a Virginia native. I grew up in Charlottesville, attended UVA and worked at several other Virginia newspapers before I came to the Post in 2007.) I do plan to vote -- though I won't tell you for who! I vote in general elections, but do not vote in primaries.

Alexandria, Va.: Deeds has run an awful general campaign, but still has my vote based on his transportation plan and my fears of McDonnell's social conservatism. Any chance Deeds can pull this off?

Jennifer Agiesta: Alexandria, you are not alone on this one. Among Deeds' own supporters, nearly four in 10 say he's running a mainly negative campaign and just 22 percent are "very enthusiastic" about his candidacy.

As for his chances, a double-digit lead one week out is quite a big hill to climb, but almost anything is possible in politics.

Washington, D.C.: What is the news value of testing themes in focus groups? Conducting research on what will work for each candidate is a step over the line from what a news organization should be doing. Testing themes can only lead to wrongful use of polling data to assist one candidate or the other, particularly because the research is highly subjective and not easily reported to the public. It's a little bit like manufacturing biological weapons (which the United States doesn't do)in that the existence of the product can only lead to its misuse.

Jennifer Agiesta: Hi Washington, not quite sure I'd compare qualitative research and biological weapons, but I can attempt to explain our goal in doing focus group research.

We conducted a couple on this contest, not to test themes or messages in the way that campaigns would use them, but to allow voters to tell us in their own words what they're feeling about the race. We reported them in conjunction with representative poll data as a more in-depth look at the feelings of a particular group of voters.

Fairfax, Va.: Whatever McDonnell says about his new found 'moderation,' I tend to think the real rabid conservatives are lurking in the legislature, ready to submit laws that will re-start the culture wars in Virginia, while transportation and education get shoved off to the sidelines (again).

Can you summarize what the lay of the land may be in the legislature after the election?

Will the Senate be able to hold off some of the more radical ideas that might come out of the House, and/or Cuccinelli's office?

Anita Kumar: As I mentioned in an earlier answer, the Republicans believe a Bob McDonnell win, if there is one, could help them in other races including the House of Delegates. They are looking to pick up seats -- at least a couple, maybe five or more. That means the dynamics in the House will change some, but not completely. The Republicans already have a six-seat advantage in the House. A larger GOP majority will mean that it will be even more difficult for Democratic proposals to get through the House. The Democrats still hold a majority in the Senate (though that could change if there are special elections or moves to a McDonnell administration, if there is one. See my earlier answer). Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw of Fairfax County will be sure to try to kill any Republican proposals coming from the House he doesn't agree with. The result may be more gridlock, which has been constant the last two years. The bottom line is when two parties control the two chambers, it is very difficult for them to agree on how to deal with issues, such as transportation, and they end up killing each others' ideas.

Another General in Virginia: Hello from the Commerce School (just kidding...)...

From what I have heard there is already a concerted effort amongst Dem circles to put out the message that the Virginia election is "not about Obama." To me this sounds like most Dems have already given up on 2009.

Did your polls evoke any sentiment as to whether this election really did reflect angst with respect to the president or was this more of a match between to contenders and McDonnell appears to have been the better match (bearing in mind that this is a repeat of 2005 where McDonnell beat Deeds)?

Jennifer Agiesta: We asked voters directly whether Obama would be a factor in their vote, and most (70 percent) said he would not impact their decision in the gubernatorial contest. Among those who do see their vote as about Obama, as many said they were voting to express support (14 percent) as to express opposition (15 percent). At the same time, Obama could still have an impact on turnout, even if the vote isn't necessarily a referendum on him. Those who said they voted for him in 2008 are far less likely to say they plan to cast a ballot next week than are those who said they were McCain voters last year.

We posted a bigger analysis of this question and Obama's impact (or lack of it) on our polling blog Behind the Numbers yesterday. Will get a link to that up soon.

And who knew there were so many W&L alums lurking out there? If only I were typing from the C-school library...

By Christopher Dean Hopkins  |  October 28, 2009; 2:18 PM ET
Categories:  2009 Governor's Race , Anita Kumar , Creigh Deeds , Election 2009 , Polls , Robert F. McDonnell  
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