Voters' Economic Jitters Shake the Race in Virginia

With more than 40 days to go, the contest is far from over: Nineteen percent of likely voters, nearly one in five, say they have not made up their minds for sure.

Among those who say they have definitely decided, though, Obama has a slight lead, 54-46 percent. And, as nationally, he has more enthused voters: Sixty-four percent of Obama supporters are very enthusiastic about their candidate, compared with 45 percent of McCain's.

Indicating the Republican Party's difficulties, just 28 percent of likely voters in Virginia identify themselves as Republicans, vs. 33 percent Democrats and the rest independents.

In 2006 and 2004 exit polls, Republican voters slightly outnumbered Democrats. Adjusting this poll to those partisan divisions gives McCain a little boost, but the race remains very close overall – still essentially a dead heat.

Rather than partisanship, a key reason for the closeness is the split among independents. They divide about evenly, 47-46 percent between McCain and Obama. In 2004 they went for Bush by 10 points. He won the state by 9.

Role of Race Critical Factor in Battleground State

Race is a critical factor as well.

Bush won Virginia whites by a vast 68-32 percent in 2004. McCain's now ahead among whites by a closer (albeit not close) 57-37 percent. But Obama's also winning near-unanimous 96 percent support from blacks, compared with Kerry's 87 percent. And blacks account for one in six likely voters in the state, more than their numbers nationally, albeit a bit under their share in the 2004 Virginia exit poll.

Regional divisions are an essential element of Virginia politics.

Obama is strongest by far in northern Virginia, the generally well-off Washington D.C. suburbs that Kerry won in 2004 and Webb won by a wider margin in 2006.

The race is close in the Southeast, a swing area of the state including the Democratic-tilting Norfolk and the Republican-tilting Virginia Beach, and it moves heavily to McCain in the state's west.

Well worth watching is the east, where McCain currently has a scant 5-point edge.

The region includes rural, Republican areas, but also Richmond, with a sizable black population. Bush won it by 15 points in 2004, Allen by 10 in 2006. Whites in the east go 2-1 for McCain in this poll, but African-Americans and other nonwhites pull it closer.

It's the Economy...Again

Obama's 10-point advantage in trust to handle the economy is matched by his lead, 49 to 39 percent, in trust to fix the problems with major financial institutions that have transfixed world markets.

And economic concerns are broad across a range of measures: As noted, 82 percent of registered voters in Virginia say they're worried about the economy's direction; 74 percent express concern about the stock market; and 59 percent are worried about their own family's finances.

And it differentiates vote preferences.

Looking just among whites, McCain's advantage is much smaller among people who are worried economically than those who are more sanguine.

His vast 57-point lead among white men who are not worried about their own finances shrinks to 15 points among those who are worried. And McCain leads by 20 points among white women who are unworried about their family finances – but among white women who are worried, the race stands at 49-45 percent, Obama-McCain.

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