CHARLESTON — If the election were today, incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin would defeat his challenger, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, according to the latest WVMetroNews/Dominion Post poll.
The poll was released Friday and showed that 46 percent of respondents would vote for Manchin, the Democrat who has served in the Senate since 2010.
Thirty-eight percent said they would vote for Morrisey, a Republican who is the two-term attorney general.
Another 16 percent said they still aren’t sure.
“What we find is that Morrisey, while he’s behind by about 8 percentage points, if you look at the voters most interested in the election that lead shrinks,” said professional 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. They include likely registered voters from all 55 counties.
The survey was conducted Aug. 16-26. President Donald Trump, a likely factor in the race, visited West Virginia to rally with Morrisey on Aug. 21.
There is a lot at stake in the high-profile race, with Republicans holding a majority of 51 seats and Democrats holding 47. There are two independents, both of whom caucus with Democrats.
Most polling has shown Manchin ahead in the race. Pundits also give Manchin the edge.
Sabato’s Crystal Ball moved the race from “toss up” to “leans Republican” this summer. Cook Political report still has the race as a “toss up,” meaning either party has a chance of winning.
“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 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 Sen. 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 votes 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 poll also asked about the popularity of other officeholders.
A year after switching parties from Democrat to Republican, Gov. Jim Justice has improved job approval ratings, according to the West Virginia poll.
Right now, 43 percent approve of how Justice is doing. Thirty-seven percent disapprove, and 20 percent aren’t sure.
Last year, not long after he announced he would switch parties, 34 percent said they approved of his performance and 44 percent disapproved. Twenty-two percent weren’t sure.
“I believe voters were considering how they feel about that when we were doing polling last August,” Repass said.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s approval is up compared to about this time last year, according to the poll.
Forty-seven percent expressed approval of Capito, a Republican. That’s up from about 40 percent the poll reflected 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, according to the poll. Thirty-three percent of respondents said they disapprove of Trump, with 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.”