By Jim Ellis
Oct. 21, 2021 — A pair of Schoen Cooperman Research surveys of the New Jersey and Virginia governors’ races are telling somewhat conflicting internal stories.
First, the Schoen New Jersey poll (Oct. 9-12; 500 certain and likely New Jersey gubernatorial election voters) finds incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy (D) leading challenger Jack Ciattarelli (R), a former state assemblyman and business owner, 50-41 percent. Moving through the poll, however, we see the “always vote in gubernatorial elections” cell segment tell a different story.
Among the “absolutely certain” 2021 voters, the race tightens to a 48-46 percent Murphy lead, and among those who say they “always” vote in gubernatorial elections, the Murphy position slightly improves to 49-45 percent.
Schoen also simultaneously conducted a similar poll of the Virginia governor’s race (Oct. 9-12; 500 certain and likely New Jersey gubernatorial election voters), and the segmented results offer an even more stark contrast when compared with the overall sample.
On the ballot test, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) leads ex-hedge fund CEO Glenn Youngkin (R) by a 47-43 percent count, numbers and a spread we have seen consistently throughout the Old Dominion polling cycle.
Among the “absolutely certain” voters, however, the two are tied at 47 percent, and within the “always vote in gubernatorial elections” segment, Youngkin actually takes a 49-45 percent lead.
This pattern of the most likely voters performing better for the Republican candidates than the sample as a whole is not particularly unusual for what we have previously seen in these two governors’ races, and especially so for Virginia.
In the Commonwealth, Democratic primary turnout was 34,000 people less in 2021 than in the 2017 initial election, a trend contrary to what we’ve seen throughout the nation in the most recent elections. Furthermore, other polls have suggested that the Republican enthusiasm factor for this upcoming vote is definitively greater than among Democratic voters.
In New Jersey, 79 percent of the survey sample identified themselves as “certain” to vote in the 2021 gubernatorial election. The additional 21 percent considered themselves “likely” to participate. A total of 67 percent of the respondents said they vote in “all” gubernatorial contests, while 24 percent said they vote in “most.” Additionally, the New Jersey sample approved of President Biden’s performance with a 53:44 percent positive to negative ratio.
The Virginia segmented numbers are similar. A total of 74 percent of the polling sample says they are “certain” to vote, while 26 percent are considered “likely” to do so. Here, 61 percent say they vote in “all gubernatorial elections,” while 30 percent say they cast a ballot in “most” of the gubernatorial campaigns. In Virginia, however, President Biden’s approval rating is upside-down. From those sampled, the president scores a favorable rating from 47 percent while a majority 51 percent rate his performance as unfavorable.
These numbers in both states suggest that turnout will be the major determining factor. The overall numbers project that the McAuliffe-Youngkin race has the potential of ending in a very close finish, while New Jersey Gov. Murphy looks to be headed toward winning a second term with a much smaller result than 56-42 percent majority spread he recorded in 2017.
While most of the underlying numbers appear to favor the Republican candidates, the Democrats in both states have distinct advantages. Each are now reliable Democratic electoral domains so both Murphy and McAuliffe are rated as continued favorites to win their respective elections.
Additionally, Gov. Murphy has a huge resource advantage over Ciattarelli, to the point that the challenger is having a difficult time reaching enough people with his message.
In Virginia, it can be argued that the Youngkin campaign is failing to fully capitalize on some of the key happenings in the state, particularly pertaining to the school board situation in Loudoun County, which is a critically important vote base in statewide elections. Though Republican enthusiasm seems to be up, the Youngkin campaign appears to be missing opportunities to maximize their efforts of driving the right of center electorate to the polls.