PPP's newest Virginia poll finds Barack Obama leading Mitt Romney 50-47 in the state, down from a 51-46 advantage three weeks ago. This is the closest we've found the race in Virginia the entire cycle, but Obama continues to find himself at the critical 50% mark in a state where Romney probably can't afford to lose.
Romney's performance in the debate on Wednesday seems to have helped his image with Virginia voters. They think he won the debate by a 61/28 margin, including 71/17 with independents. Compared to our last poll he's seen a 10 point gain in his net favorability rating from -2 at 47/49 in mid-September to now +8 at 52/44. The problem for Romney is that most of that gain has come with Democrats, from 6/90 to 21/76. But still only 8% of those Democrats are actually voting for Romney. Much of the improvement in Romney's image is people going from hating Romney and voting for Obama to respecting Romney but still voting for Obama.
The reason the race hasn't moved much despite the improvement in Romney's image is that Obama's held steady over the last three weeks in spite of his poor debate performance. 3 weeks ago 50% of Virginians approved of him and 48% disapproved. Now 50% of Virginians approve of him and 48% disapprove. There's been no movement whatsoever in perceptions of his job performance. Obama has a 50/47 advantage over Romney in terms of who voters trust more on the economy, and a 51/46 edge on foreign policy.
Obama leads Romney 52-44 with women while keeping things about equal with men, trailing Romney just 49-48. Romney's up 57-40 with white voters, but would need to win them by a lot more than that to overcome Obama's 90-8 lead with African Americans and 59-34 advantage with other nonwhite voters. The future is looking bright for Democrats in Virginia with voters under 45 supporting Obama 59-38. The race is only close overall because of a 55-43 advantage for Romney with seniors.
Three weeks ago we found Democrats in Virginia (73% 'very excited' about the election) more enthusiastic about voting this fall than Republicans (63% very excited.) Renewed GOP enthusiasm in the wake of Romney's strong performance has evened out those numbers with both 70% of Democrats and Republicans saying they're very excited about the election. But after low Democratic turnout helped doom the party in the state over the last three years they'll probably take breaking even on that measure.
We've been calling Virginia Obama's firewall state for a long time, and this is just more evidence of it. Despite having one of his worst weeks of the campaign he continues to lead by 3 points there, and if Romney doesn't win Virginia he likely can't win overall.
Full results here