A Virginia Polling Bonanza

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 21, 2017 — Four different pollsters released new data for the Virginia governor’s campaign within the past few days, and the spreads range from a tie to a 10-point lead for Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the Democratic nominee.

The polls are all reputable, but one seems a bit skewed toward the Republicans, while another favors the Democrats. Most of the statistical information appears sound, and all of them have reasonable splits regarding the numbers of Democrats and Republicans in the respondent universes when compared to the actual percentages.

The four pollsters are: Suffolk University/USA Today, Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Princeton Survey Research Associates, International partnering with the University of Mary Washington, and Quinnipiac University. The ballot test results follow, from earliest to most recent.

Princeton Survey Research Associates/International/University of Mary Washington:
Sept. 5-12; 1,000 Virginia adults; 867 registered Virginia voters; 562 likely Virginia voters
Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) — 44%
Ex-RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie (R) — 39%

Mason-Dixon Polling & Research:
Sept. 10-15; 625 VA registered voters
Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) — 44%
Ex-RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie (R) — 43%

Suffolk University/USA Today:
Sept. 13-17; 500 likely Virginia voters
Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) — 42%
Ex-RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie (R) — 42%

Quinnipiac University:

Sept. 14-18; 850 likely Virginia voters
Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) — 51%
Ex-RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie (R) — 41%

Though the Princeton/Mary Washington survey has the longest sampling period, this might be the most accurate poll. The respondents are grouped and then segmented from least to most likely to vote. All questions are also compared to previous responses from their polls dating back four years. The progressions over the years up to the present appear reasonable and consistent. They also capture and note the state’s leftward move during that particular time interval.

The two polls that seemed skewed, not surprisingly, are the ones that find the two candidates at the extremes of this four-poll sample. The Suffolk/USA Today survey that projects a tie, and Quinnipiac’s data that suggests Northam has a 10-point advantage seem out of balance. Though, Mason-Dixon coming in with what may be a more sound poll at just about the same point as Suffolk/USA (44-43 percent to 42-42 percent) does add more credence to the idea that the race could be close to a tie, however.

The recent historical voting trends certainly favor a Democratic victory this November, but Republicans still fare well in lower turnout situations. The geographical segments, as tested in the Mason-Dixon poll, shows Northam pushing 60 percent in northern Virginia (57-30 percent) while Gillespie enjoys similar spreads in the Shenandoah/Piedmont (53-36 percent), Lynchburg/Southside (52-35 percent), and Roanoke/ Southwest (57-32 percent). Northam leads in Hampton Roads (45-39 percent), and the two are virtually tied in Richmond Metro (Gillespie up 45-44 percent). These regions break as one would expect based upon past partisan performance, though Northam’s margin in the Tidewater area is a bit below normal Democratic standing.

The geographical segmentation suggests that the turnout model, as is the case in most elections, will determine which candidate becomes Virginia’s next governor. Northam will be fixated on maximizing turnout in Northern Virginia, while Gillespie will concentrate his organizational efforts principally in the southwestern part of the state. Most indications point to a close Northam victory but with only about seven weeks remaining in this campaign, this race could still go either way.

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