Is Cuccinelli Suddenly Narrowing the Gap in Virginia?

Two just-released polls suggest that Virginia’s embattled Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli is making strides in his battle against Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, but even this data still portends that the latter will win the race next Tuesday.

The least credible of the two surveys comes from Zogby-Newsmax (dates and sample size not released). The results reveal a McAuliffe lead of only 35-30 percent, with nine percent headed for Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis. No other poll has shown such a low determined number of voters. Zogby then removed all of the undecideds and the adjusted report gives McAuliffe a 43-37 percent advantage, with Sarvis posting 11 percent.

Two additional sector reports also initiate skepticism. First, the pollster suggests that Libertarian Sarvis “hitting double-digits is very doable.” Often times third-party candidates poll well during a race, normally when both major party candidates are negatively viewed as in this Virginia race. Rarely, if ever, do they exceed the 10 percent figure, however. The Zogby statement about Sarvis’ potential performance ignores virtually all previous trends.

In the most recent race where the Independent candidate was a potentially serious factor occurred in New Jersey back in 2009. Then, Chris Daggett was polling far better against Chris Christie and then-Gov. Jon Corzine than Sarvis is against McAuliffe and Cuccinelli, but finished with just under 6 percent of the vote.

Second, the Zogby poll projects that approximately one-third of African-American voters are still undecided. Based upon voting history and turnout projections, this is an unrealistic and clearly incorrect conclusion. Factoring in the typical African-American share of the electorate added to their traditional overwhelming support of the Democratic candidate would then allow McAuliffe to claim a much bigger lead than the five points illuminated in the spread above.

The second poll, from Quinnipiac University (Oct. 22-28; 1,182 likely Virginia voters) – an organization that regularly surveys the race – shows Cuccinelli closing to within 41-45 percent, and appears more credible. In this study, Libertarian Sarvis commands a similar nine percent. Although Cuccinelli seems to have improved his position vis-a-vis the ballot test, McAuliffe still looks strong within several very important voter segments.

Among college educated voters, McAuliffe enjoys a whopping 55-33 percent advantage. Those not having a college degree favor Cuccinelli by a 48-37 percent clip. Turning to the key Independent segment, McAuliffe is doing particularly well, scoring a 46-31 percent edge. Contrasting the Quinnipiac data to that of Zogby, the Q-Poll shows McAuliffe scoring an 85-9 percent margin among African Americans, much more in line with that demographic’s voting history.

In agreement with virtually all other polls, the Q-Poll detects a very poor Cuccinelli favorability rating (40:52 percent favorable to unfavorable) but also finds McAuliffe to be in upside down territory. The Democratic nominee’s personal index is an uninspiring 41:46 percent. Just five days to see how it all turns out.

The closeness of the Q-Poll ballot test is surprising since virtually all of its fundamentals squarely favor McAuliffe. Though both of the surveys covered in this column suggest a tightening of the race, Terry McAuliffe is still cruising toward victory on Tuesday. It will take a major event occurring between now and Election Day, and a strong Cuccinelli voter turnout operation, for him to score what will now be a major upset victory.

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