By JAKE ZUCKERMAN
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - Gov. Jim Justice maintains a firm lead over the gubernatorial primary, but polling data released Friday shows his approval rating barely above water and within the margin of error.
According to the MetroNews Dominion Post West Virginia Poll, released at the state Chamber of Commerce's annual business summit held at The Greenbrier resort, about 42% of voters approve of Justice, compared to 40% who don't.
The data stems from interviews with more than 500 registered voters between Aug. 14 and Aug. 22. The margin of error was 4.4%.
Despite the lackluster approval numbers, Justice wields a commanding lead over his primary challengers.
The data shows 53% of likely Republican primary voters would support Justice, compared to 19% for Woody Thrasher and 12% for Mike Folk.
However, Rex Repass, president of Research America Inc., cautioned the primary data is less reliable than the approval data given a smaller sampling size and the span between Friday and the May gubernatorial primary.
Should U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., wade into the race, as he has hinted at in recent months, he would enter with a 10-point advantage over Justice (49% to 39%), poll data suggests.
The poll did not collect data on Stephen Smith, who is running for governor as a Democrat. Repass said Smith is not included in the poll because he has not filed pre-candidacy papers for governor, specifically. The Secretary of State's Office lists him as a pre-candidate for undeclared office.
Other poll findings include:
n President Donald Trump has a 54% approval rate and 38% disapproval rate.
n Manchin has a 49% approval rate, up 6 percentage points from a year ago.
n Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has a 51% approval rate, but a mere 25% disapproval rate.