New Virginia Polls: Race Not Over

There seems to be an air of defeatism surrounding many Virginia Republicans about the impending governor’s race, but three new polls still show that GOP nominee Ken Cuccinelli is within striking distance of Democrat Terry McAuliffe. All three polls, from Hampton University, Emerson College and the University of Mary Washington, give McAuliffe a lead ranging from five to seven points, with both candidates well under 50 percent – data that hardly concludes the front-runner is on the threshold of clinching the election.

Hampton University (Sept. 25-26 and 28-29; 800 likely Virginia voters) gives McAuliffe a 42-37 percent edge over Cuccinelli, with Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis scoring eight percent. The Emerson College Polling Society (Boston, MA) conducted their survey Sept. 26-30 and interviewed 519 Virginia registered voters. They found McAuliffe to be leading Cuccinelli and Sarvis 43-38-11 percent, a five-point reduction in the Democrat’s lead from the ECPS August poll. Finally the University of Mary Washington (Fredericksburg, VA), conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International during the Sept. 25-29 period of 823 Virginia registered voters (from a total resident sample of 1,001), posts McAuliffe to a 42-35 percent advantage, with Sarvis picking up 10 percent support.

The Sarvis number could be a wild card. Oftentimes when major party candidates display high unfavorable ratings, and all polling has consistently revealed such in this particular race, an Independent can score abnormally high in surveys, often reaching double-digits, as Sarvis is doing here. Such early support for Independents in polls, however, rarely translates into votes on Election Day. Should this pattern hold in the Virginia race, then Cuccinelli could be the benefactor because his lower numbers among conservative oriented independents portend that he is losing more support to Sarvis than is McAuliffe, thus his ability to gain may be greater once these people come to the conclusion that voting for a candidate with no potential to win is a waste.

Polling Segmentation

The Hampton poll segmented the state into regions. McAuliffe runs strongest in the Washington, DC suburbs (50-29 percent), the Tidewater (49-30 percent), and southeast Virginia (46-37 percent). Cuccinelli’s strongest areas are central Virginia (51-37 percent), southwest Virginia (48-31 percent), and the area termed the “Northern Virginia Exurbs” (45-33 percent). McAuliffe leads among African Americans by a whopping 73-5 percent margin, and the turnout projection for this demographic group is estimated to be 16 percent. The black participation rate could be the difference in this campaign. It appears, according to this data, that African Americans must minimally turn out at Hampton’s estimated level for McAuliffe to win.

According to the Emerson College poll, Cuccinelli has severe problems within his Republican base as 28 percent of those surveyed have an unfavorable opinion of their nominee. This is contrasted to 15 percent of Democrats expressing a negative sentiment of McAuliffe.

All of the polls show a gender gap, with women favoring McAuliffe by a greater margin than the sample as a whole, and men supporting Cuccinelli outright. The Mary Washington poll illuminated the differences, forecasting that likely voting females support McAuliffe in a 48-30 percent configuration, while likely voting men back Cuccinelli 41-36 percent.

All of the data suggests that, while McAuliffe would likely win this election if the vote were today, nothing is certain come Nov 5. All three Virginia statewide campaigns are extremely fluid.

The Other Virginia Races

The two Virginia pollsters also tested the lieutenant governor and attorney general down ballot races. Hampton University gives controversial GOP lieutenant governor nominee E.W. Jackson a 39-38 percent lead over Virginia Beach state Sen. Ralph Northam (D). Conversely, Mary Washington projects the Democrat to be leading 39-35 percent. In the AG’s race, both pollsters place Republican state Sen. Mark Obenshain from the Harrisonburg district ahead of Loudon County Democratic state Sen. Mark Herring by margins of six (Mary Washington: 42-36 percent) and four points (Hampton: 41-37 percent).

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