Republican Youngkin Notches First Lead in Virginia Gubernatorial Race

By Jim Ellis

Republican Glenn Youngkin, Virginia candidate for governor

Sept. 24, 2021 — A new University of Mary Washington survey (conducted by Research America, Sept. 7-13; 1,000 total sample 528 likely Virginia gubernatorial election voters, live interview & online) finds Republican Glenn Youngkin (R) leading former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), 48-43 percent, but there are caveats.

While virtually every poll has projected the two candidates recording support percentages in the 40s, this is the first that found the ex-governor and former Democratic National Committee chairman trailing. Two other surveys were also released yesterday, and both of them find results consistent with other pollsters that place both candidates in the 40s, but with McAuliffe holding the advantage.

KAConsulting (Sept. 17-19; 700 likely Virginia voters, live interview), polling for the Presidential Coalition, found McAuliffe topping Youngkin, 46-42 percent. Public Policy Polling (Sept. 17-18; 875 Virginia voters, interactive voice response system) derived an almost identical 45-42 percent McAuliffe ballot test result during a simultaneous time realm.

The Mary Washington study may well be an outlier. While the 48-43 percent margin comes from those describing themselves as likely voters in the Nov. 2 election, when responses from all 1,000 sampled individuals are recorded, the ballot test flips to 43-38 percent in favor of McAuliffe. It is not unusual to see differences when screening for likely voters versus the universe as a whole, but detecting a ten-point swing affecting just one candidate – you will notice McAuliffe scores 43 percent within both groups – raises methodological questions.

The poll becomes even more suspect when seeing that the candidates in the other statewide races, lieutenant governor and attorney general, produce no such GOP swing. In the lieutenant governor’s contest, Republican Winsome Sears has a 47-41 percent lead over Democrat Hala Ayala among likely voters, but the two are dead even at 38 percent support when all respondents are added to the ballot test matrix.

In the AG’s campaign among likely voters, Republican Jason Miyares holds a 46-42 percent edge over incumbent Democrat Mark Herring, but the race flips to 40-37 percent in the attorney general’s favor when all respondents are questioned.

The rather substantial swing toward the Democrats among all recorded responses except for Youngkin’s major sway, suggests outlying, or aberrant data. In most survey research, we see Democrats doing better when the sampling universe is larger but Republicans improving their standing when screening only for likely voters. This usually happens only incrementally, however, and not the large one-way movement we see toward Youngkin in this Mary Washington study.

Another oddity is the likely voter sample cell contains substantially more males than females. In this case, 54 percent of the likely voters are men. This contrasts with the entire sampling universe that breaks 51-49 percent in favor of women. Men tend to be more conservative in this modern political era, which helps explains Youngkin’s surge within the likely voter segment.

The generic question relating to control of the House of Delegates, the only legislative chamber up for election with the governor in 2021, also suggests that the unusually higher ratio of men to women among likely voters is leading to a better Republican result. Among the likely election participants, 50 percent would favor Republicans controlling the House of Delegates versus 43 percent who prefer the Democrats. Again, when all respondents’ answers are added to the totals, we see a tie at 43 percent between the generic Democrats and Republicans.

The Mary Washington poll seems to have enough abnormalities to suggest disregarding the pro-Youngkin result. Though this survey will likely become a tool for the Youngkin campaign, the state of the race is likely more accurately captured by the pollsters projecting McAuliffe to be holding a slight lead, even though he rarely reaches the 50 percent plateau. Even the lesser numbers for Youngkin, however, when compared to McAuliffe suggests that the Republican is a viable challenger in a difficult state for this party. While his upset prospects are realistic, such an end result is not likely probable.

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