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Poll reveals mixed bag of WV opinions

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The man with the highest level of confidence from West Virginians isn't in the White House, Congress, the West Virginia Legislature or even the governor's mansion.

He spends most of his time screaming along the sidelines at Mountaineer Field.

When the 68 percent of people polled by Repass & Partners as part of The West Virginia Poll Aug. 15-22 who identified themselves as "sports fans" were asked how much confidence they had in West Virginia University Head Football Coach Dana Holgorsen to lead a successful Mountaineer football program, a total of 68 percent people said they had confidence in him.

Compared with the 28 percent of the poll's participants who said they approved of the job President Barack Obama was doing or the 43 percent of participants who said they approved of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Holgorsen could have a future in politics.

Rex Repass, a West Virginia native who has been doing polls since 1980, released his latest results on what matters in West Virginia at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting and Business Summit on Aug. 30.

30 years of polls

Repass said his firm has conducted more than 50,000 interviews with West Virginians as part of the past 30 years of The West Virginia Poll.

"We know the state and its residents very well," Repass said. "We're usually right; not always, but that's the nature of our business."

The poll was conducted among West Virginia residents who were 18 and older. Repass said the overall confidence is +/- 4.9 percentage points, and 52 percent of participants were women. Participants' ages were scattered, with 30 percent between the ages of 55 and 64; 23 percent between the ages of 35 and 44; 21 percent were between the ages of 45 and 54; 18 percent were older than age 65 and only 8 percent were between the ages of 18 and 34. Twenty-eight percent of participants had a bachelor's degree and 23 percent had a high school diploma or its equivalent. Twenty-four percent of participants indicated their total annual household income fell between $50,000 and $74,000; 17 percent said their total annual household income was between $100,000 and $149,000; and 15 percent of participants said their income was between $35,000 and $49,999.

Repass said West Virginians are continuing to lean more and more conservative, continuing the trend from recent election cycles in the state, but residents seem to be favoring the Democratic party in state politics.

When asked about their "general approach to issues," 40 percent of participants considered themselves conservative in some degree and 20 percent of participants indicated they were liberal to varying degrees.

Continued conservative lean

One poll question asked participants their preference for the outcome of next year's congressional elections, and 40 percent responded they would prefer a Republican-controlled Congress, compared with 39 percent who said they would prefer a Democrat-controlled Congress and 21 percent who responded they were not sure.

The next poll question asked participants to think about the West Virginia Legislature and their preference for the outcome of next year's elections. Forty-two percent of participants indicated they would favor a Democrat-controlled Legislature, and 35 percent said they would prefer a Republican-controlled Legislature while 23 percent said they were unsure.

Participants were asked if they approve or disapprove of the job several politicians were doing, and U.S. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., received the highest percentage, at 52 percent. About 51 percent of participants said they approved of the job Earl Ray Tomblin was doing as governor, and 50 percent said they approve of the job Rep. Shelley Moore Capito was doing in Congress.

Repass pointed out that one-fourth of participants were unsure of their feelings about Capito, so as she runs for U.S. Senate, she has "some work to be done in terms of statewide perception."

"Public opinion is a snapshot in time," he said.

That may explain why 45 percent of the participants who said they were sports fans indicated they were bigger fans of the Cincinnati Reds, and 40 percent responded they were bigger fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Both teams are battling toward the postseason and the Pirates are boasting their best record in decades, so Mountain State fans may jump aboard a baseball bandwagon or even realign their loyalties.

West Virginia's two political parties jumped on the responses to the question asking participants who they would vote for if the election for U.S. senator from West Virginia were today. Capito, who is running for the seat, received 45 percent of responses and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, a Democrat who has not indicated whether she is running for the position, received 40 percent of the responses with 15 percent of participants saying they were unsure.

Party bickering

"As we have been saying for several weeks, there is overwhelming support for a Natalie Tennant Senate candidacy, and today's West Virginia Poll confirms that," West Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio said in a news release. "These results are no surprise, given her years of service to the state of West Virginia, her emphasis on making the Secretary of State's Office more responsive to the needs of small businesses and her unwavering support for West Virginia's veterans."

Puccio later released a second statement saying the West Virginia Republican Party "is using hypocritical tactics to attack a recently released public poll."

West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas called the poll "flawed by design," criticizing it for the second year in a row.

"The demographics do not reflect West Virginia, there is no indication of geography and it is a blended result," Lucas said. "The poll can't be any worse and has no scientific merit.

"West Virginians should have no confidence in the Repass poll since last year President Obama was predicted to lose the Mountain State by only 14 points, but the actual result was twice the Repass figure."

Other results

About 83 percent of participants indicated they have health insurance, and 60 percent said they expect the cost of their health insurance to increase when the Affordable Care Act goes into effect next year.

The poll found only 18 percent of participants think the nation's economy will get better in the next 12 months, with 40 percent indicating they think it will get worse and 35 percent responding they think it will stay about the same.

Perception about West Virginia's economy fared only slightly better in the poll, with 45 percent responding they think the state's economy will stay about the same and 35 percent stating they think it will get worse and only 13 percent responding they think West Virginia's economy will get better.

To sum it all up, Repass said what matters in West Virginia is conservative government, but it must be balanced government that works, along with a strong two-party system, competitive races for federal office and access to health insurance without dramatic increases in costs.

But the clear-cut issue that matters to most West Virginians?

"A successful Dana Holgorsen," Repass said.