New Virginia Polling

By Jim Ellis

June 26, 2017 — Despite the vast majority of survey research firms again failing to predict the correct outcome for a recent political campaign — this time the GA-6 special election — we do have new data to analyze for the Virginia governor’s race.

While it is too early to tell whether the pollsters are correctly projecting the turnout model and whether they are using the proper formula to pull a representative sample, it is still worthwhile to look at all the published polls in order to establish a moving trend.

As was reported immediately after the Virginia primary concluded, Harper Polling went into the field the day after Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie won their respective party nominations for governor. According to their results (June 14-16; 500 registered Virginia voters), both Northam and Gillespie were tied at 46 percent. The conclusion was even a bit better for Gillespie because within the eight percent group who reported themselves as undecided, 19 percent indicated a preference for the Republican, while seven percent said they were leaning toward Northam, the new Democratic candidate.

This was a surprising result since Northam over-performed in the Democratic primary to an unexpected degree, particularly in Northern Virginia, and Gillespie badly under-performed, just slipping by Prince William County Board Chairman Corey Stewart with a one-point victory when it appeared he would win in a landslide.

Last week, Quinnipiac University released their new data (June 15-20; 1,145 registered Virginia voters) that paint a much different picture as to where the race stands. According to these results, it is Lt. Gov. Northam jumping out to a 47-39 percent lead over Gillespie, which seems like a more accurate depiction based upon the primary results.

While the two pollsters projected different favorability ratios for each candidate, they were in agreement that Northam has the better numbers. Harper finds the lieutenant governor’s index at 52:31 percent favorable to unfavorable, where Quinnipiac sees the split at a lower 36:24 percent. For Gillespie, Harper derives a 45:38 percent positive split, while the Q-Poll finds him only breaking even at 29:29 percent.

Quinnipiac delved into the attitudes people have toward each candidate and who is seen as the better leader for a particular issue set. The Q-Poll sample reported, by three and four point margins, that Gillespie is better suited to handle taxes and the economy.

For Northam, the cell group believes he can better manage education (45-32 percent), healthcare (46-33 percent), and immigration (40-37 percent).

Looking at both polls in the aggregate it is likely that the sum result places Northam in the lead for the emerging governor’s race, but by only a relatively slim margin. And, based upon what we have seen lately from the pollsters, a tight spread can disappear very quickly once the official vote counting process actually begins.

With the special elections now generally behind us, particularly since the Alabama Senate and UT-3 congressional races will not likely feature highly competitive general elections, the most hotly contested November race should be the Virginia governor’s campaign. Hence, we can expect a plethora of contemporary polling data being released on a regular basis from now until very close to Election Day itself.

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