Youngkin Closing on McAuliffe

By Jim Ellis

Glenn Youngkin, Virginia Republican governor candidate

Oct. 8, 2021 — A new Emerson College poll (Oct. 1-3; 620 likely Virginia voters, live interview and online panel with weighted responses) finds former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and ex-hedge fund CEO Glenn Youngkin in a virtual dead heat on the ballot test. McAuliffe is clinging to a bare 49-48 percent edge, but the underlying numbers suggest Youngkin may not be quite that close.

While Youngkin enjoys a very strong lead in the rural areas (57-42 percent) McAuliffe does better than he in the much larger urban areas (59-36 percent) thus negating, and then some, any edge the challenger may have established.

Surprisingly, considering recent poor Republican performance among suburban voters, Youngkin pulls slightly ahead of McAuliffe, 49-48 percent, within this category. Breaking even here would be a huge benefit for Youngkin should this trend prove real and is sustained.

Among women, McAuliffe has a 51-45 percent edge, which is actually a credible split for a Republican nominee in a Democratic state. Youngkin, however, needs to perform better among men than his 50-46 percent split found in this survey. Targeting men should be a key focal point for the Youngkin campaign in the closing days of the race.

Among minority groups, Emerson finds that Youngkin is outperforming a typical Republican candidate. The split among blacks, however, of 72-25 percent in McAuliffe’s favor, is suspect. Usually a Republican candidate is closer to the 10 percent level within this cell segment. It is not particularly unusual, however, to see a Republican polling better among blacks than what would be the actual performance factor once the votes are cast, and that pattern may appear again when the final votes are recorded in this contest.

The Hispanic segmentation is interesting. Republicans have been doing better within the Hispanic cell, and particularly so in 2020; so Youngkin actually leading McAuliffe within this group, 55-45 percent, may not be shocking but certainly appears inflated.

It wouldn’t be particularly surprising to see Youngkin pull more votes from Hispanics than a typical Republican candidate, but it is unlikely he would post a majority within this group. Still, while probably not as rosy a picture as this poll paints for Youngkin, it is probable that he will draw a greater Hispanic share than originally projected for him at the beginning of this campaign.

A major finding in this poll is that a clear majority — 55 percent — of the sample believes McAuliffe will win the race regardless of how they plan to vote. This has often proved a definitive question in predicting election outcome and the fact that the McAuliffe victory projection exceeds his ballot test score is a major plus for the former governor.

A point in Youngkin’s favor is that President Biden’s favorability index is slightly upside down in a state he easily carried. According to the Emerson result, Biden’s ratio is 45:48 percent positive to negative. At this point in the campaign, however, the Youngkin effort has done little to attack the Biden policies or tie McAuliffe to them.

Additionally, early voting is reportedly down substantially from the 2020 presidential election, which one would expect and especially so because that particular contest featured a supercharged participation rate. In the 2020 presidential election, more than 2.815 million Virginians voted by mail or early, which was the first election where the state had significantly expanded such ballot casting opportunities.

In this 2021 contest, we see 404,491 early votes or mail ballot requests recorded through Oct. 5 according to the Virginia Board of Elections, but much time remains for this figure to grow.

The Emerson questionnaire also fielded a ballot test for the attorney general’s campaign, but apparently not the lieutenant governor battle. This is an interesting bellwether to help measure the governor’s results. Here, Attorney General Mark Herring (D) leads Republican Jason Miyares, 46-44 percent. The troubling statistic, however, for Herring and the Democrats is that the previously undecided voter is breaking 65-35 percent in Miyares’ favor.

The Emerson College Virginia poll suggests that we are headed for an interesting closing period in the odd-year Old Dominion statewide elections. It remains to be seen how the final trends unfold.

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