A Virtual Tie in Virginia

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) — latest campaign ad

Ed Gillespie (R) – latest campaign ad

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 7, 2017 — On the dawn of today’s Virginia governor’s race, significant movement is apparent in the final pre-election polls.

At the end of last week, we previously reported that Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) had a lead of 3.7 percentage points when mean averaging seven realm polls conducted between Oct. 15-28. The latest six studies, all commissioned during the Oct. 29-Nov. 2 period, show Republican Ed Gillespie closing the gap even further, reducing Northam’s lead to a miniscule 1.0 percent.

At least one of the latest half-dozen comes from a pollster with a poor reliability record. Here, Roanoke University (Oct. 29-Nov. 2; 781 likely Virginia voters) finds the two candidates tied at 47 percent, which actually appears in line with the other published polls. Usually, the Roanoke data proves to be an outlier.

The survey giving Northam his best showing comes from Gravis Marketing (Oct. 30-Nov. 3; 1,143 registered Virginia voters via Interactive Voice Response system) where the lieutenant governor posts a 48-43 percent edge, consistent with results from data released last week. Gravis, not screening for likely voters, however, could explain why their results show a bigger spread than the others. The newest poll, from the New York Times/Siena University (Oct. 29-Nov. 2; 785 likely Virginia voters), finds Northam carrying a three-point edge, 43-40 percent, but with a larger undecided factor than the other studies.

Gillespie’s best standing comes from the Polling Company/WomanTrend (Oct. 30-Nov. 2; 800 likely Virginia voters) with a tally projecting the Republican nominee pulling ahead by about three percentage points when the undecided leaners are included as part of the final total. On the straight ballot test, Gillespie leads 45-43 percent, but the final spread reaches 46-43 percent when the undecided leaners are added. Like in previous Polling Company surveys, the sample size appears to contain slightly more Republicans (43D-42R) than normal voting patterns suggest, however. Rasmussen Reports (Oct. 31-Nov. 3; 875 likely Virginia voters) sees the race as a dead heat, with the candidates tied at 45 percent.

But the industry’s most accurate pollster since the 2016 election, inclusive, is the Trafalgar Group and they also released a final poll during this same time spectrum. Their data (Oct. 31-Nov. 2; 1,200 likely Virginia voters) arrives at the same margin as the six-poll average, a one-point difference. According to Trafalgar, Northam would lead 49-48 percent.

The swing toward Gillespie could be related to the flap over an independent ad that many say has crossed the believability and civility lines. The Latino Victory Fund ran a commercial showing a pick-up truck with a Gillespie and Confederate Flag bumper stickers, in addition to a “Don’t Tread on Me” license plate, obviously trying to rundown several minority children. At the end of the ad, one of the children awakes, showing that the scene was a dream.

The spot produced outrage, and even more so when Northam failed to denounce the group for its action. Gillespie responded forcefully and, not surprisingly, converted his reaction into a new message condemning the ad and Northam.

The lieutenant governor also appears shaky in the final few days. In addition to the Latino Victory Fund controversy, Northam changed his sanctuary cities support position that he has held for the past several years. The move at least caused the liberal Democracy for America organization to back away from giving “direct aid” to the Northam Campaign, which means they will not work to turn out voters for the gubernatorial effort.

On Election Eve, the Old Dominion governor’s race has appeared to lapse into a virtual tie. This means the turnout model will determine the winner. If Gillespie sees a higher than expected participation rate from central, southern, and western Virginia, while Northam fails to reach his vote goals in northern Virginia and the Tidewater, than the Republican could well score an upset. A high NoVA turnout, however, would elect Northam, and now appears imperative to his victory chances.

With a day remaining, this Virginia governor’s race appears to be anybody’s game.

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