Things Done Changed

The thing to remember about Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is that his political popularity depends on his ability to keep social issues away from the agenda. As long has he can portray himself as a technocratic, jobs oriented governor—and as long as Virginia maintains its steady rate of economic growth (juiced by the federal government in the north and the military in the south)—he can avoid association with his long history of regressive social conservatism. But now that those issues are on the agenda—thanks to his initial support for a bill to mandate forced penetration—McDonnell’s standing with Virginians, and women in particular, is in free fall. Here’s the latest survey from Quinnipiac University:

Voters approve 53 - 32 percent of the job Gov. McDonnell is doing, down from a 58 - 24 percent score February 9 and McDonnell’s lowest rating since the independent Quinnipiac University began Virginia surveys June 29, 2011. […]

Women approve of McDonnell 49 - 34 percent, down from 54 - 25 percent last month. Men approve 58 - 31 percent, compared to 62 - 23 percent last month.

Virginia voters disagree 52 - 41 percent with a new law that requires women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound examination at least 24 hours before the procedure.

McDonnell is still popular, but he’s taken a real hit as a result of his support for laws that seek to coerce women out of seeking abortions (according to the poll, Virginians oppose such laws, 72 to 21 percent). Indeed, as Quinnipiac found in an earlier survey, the unpopularity of these laws have contributed to President Obama’s strong performance in the state. Virginia voters approve of Obama’s job performance, 49 percent to 47 percent. And in a head-to-head matchup against the likely GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, he wins 50 percent to 42 percent for the former Massachusetts governor.

What’s more, this is true even if Governor McDonnell is on the ticket as Romney’s vice presidential pick—“In a matchup of President Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden against Romney and McDonnell, the Democrats win 50–43 percent.” Obama wins a huge majority of Democrats—97 percent—and has a small, three point lead over Romney with independents, 46 percent to 43 percent.

Over the course of the year, these numbers will almost certainly improve for Mitt Romney. But it’s not a good sign. As long as the Republican Party is associated with stringent anti-abortion laws and opposition to reproductive health access, individual Republicans suffer. And given the degree to which Virginia is a fairly representative battleground—somewhat diverse, with a close to even distribution of Republicans and Democrats—this doesn’t bode well for Romney’s campaign in other swing states.