Virginia Polling: Still Close

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 18, 2021 — The co/efficient polling organization has conducted two surveys in the Virginia governor’s race within the last month and both continue to find a toss-up race.

Former Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe (D)

While the Glenn Youngkin (R) campaign has so far not defined former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in definitive contrasting terms — something that must occur if the Republican is to remain in victory range from a state that is cutting against his party — the numbers still remain close.

In co/efficient’s first August poll, taken for the Virginia Conservatives for Clean Energy organization (July 25-27; 762 likely Virginia voters, interactive voice response system and text), McAuliffe’s lead was 45-40 percent. Six polls, from five different pollsters have been released in this race, and all show both candidates within the 40s. The first co/efficient survey, incidentally, returns the lowest individual support numbers for both candidates.

The second co/efficient survey, released yesterday according to The Hill newspaper (Aug. 8-9; 1,200 likely Virginia voters, interactive voice response system and text), sees a closer ballot test, 47-45 percent in favor of McAuliffe, again returning similar results with their previous study and consistent with all other public polling beginning with WPA Intelligence’s release in early June (McAuliffe 48-46 percent).

Averaging all six public ballot test results, McAuliffe scores a mean of 46.5 percent as compared to Youngkin’s 43.2 percent, which tells us that a group of professional polling teams finds the race as a virtual dead heat with the former governor holding a slight edge. These margins are similar to the 47.7 – 45.2 percent final result that McAuliffe recorded over Republican Ken Cuccinelli in their 2013 governor’s race.

The 2021 race could actually be even closer. Since polling in the past several elections has tended to understate Republican support typically by two or so percentage points, the idea that the current race is nip-and-tuck is even further supported. Additionally, looking at the Democratic primary election, just over 34,000 less people voted in the 2021 Democratic primary than did in 2017. This is opposite of almost all other elections during the same time period that find drastically increased voter turnout percentages.

McAuliffe has already been tying Youngkin to former President Donald Trump, attempting to paint him as an extremist and linking him to a national candidate who fared poorly in Virginia both in 2016 and 2020.

For his part, Youngkin is attempting to establish himself as an outsider, featuring ads of him shooting baskets and predicting that McAuliffe will run a stream of negative ads. In fact, Youngkin is using the same puppy theme that former Maryland US Senate candidate and ex-Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele used in his 2006 statewide campaign as did Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) in his successful Georgia political effort last year. Neither of these messages, however, are likely to excite the GOP base voter.

Looking at the co/efficient data, only 35 percent of the respondents believe that Virginia is on the “right track” in regard to state public policy. Conversely, 47 percent believe it is on the “wrong track.” This is a ratio that should help Youngkin since McAuliffe, with his service as a former governor and who supports current term-limited Gov. Ralph Northam (D), is the de facto incumbent.

There does appear to be a significant gender gap according to co/efficient. Women support McAuliffe by a 53-35 percent margin, but men back Youngkin by a 45-37 percent split. Geographically, McAuliffe scores big in the urban (61-32 percent) and suburban (51-30 percent) areas, while Youngkin develops a commanding advantage in the rural (59-28 percent) regions.

Ideologically, the splits are what one would expect in today’s politics, though Youngkin’s numbers appear a bit light. Liberals support McAuliffe by an 86-6 percent count, whereas self-identified conservatives back Youngkin with a slightly less robust 76-12 percent division. In the key middle category, moderates back McAuliffe 50-27 percent, a category in which Youngkin must substantially improve if he is to have a chance of winning the November election.

McAuliffe still must be viewed as the favorite in this race despite the closeness of the polling. The crosstabs suggest that unless Youngkin finds a way to communicate with a resonating message to improve among women, suburban, and moderate voters – and more than being an outsider who likes puppies – he will not be able to offset his Democratic opponent’s inherent advantages.

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