Youngkin Within Two of McCauliffe in Virginia Governor’s Campaign

By Jim Ellis

Glenn Youngkin (R), Terry McCauliffe (D), left-to-right, Virginia gubernatorial candidates

June 15, 2021 — A just-released Virginia governor’s campaign survey yields a surprising ballot test result, especially when seeing that the data was collected before last week’s Democratic primary.

WPA Intelligence (WPAi), in their most recent poll for the Glenn Youngkin for Governor campaign (June 2-6; 506 likely Virginia voters, live interview), already finds the Republican gubernatorial nominee climbing to within two percentage points (48-46 percent) of the newly crowned Democratic nominee, former governor, Terry McAuliffe.

While certain elements point to a slight Republican survey skew, it does signal, as other research has, that the 2021 Virginia governor’s race may be tighter than the state’s most recent elections that have definitively favored the Democratic candidates.

Several analysis points need reviewing. First, WPAi is a credible Republican pollster. According to the FiveThirtyEight statistical website pollster rankings, WPA Intelligence has a very respectable 0.8 predictive rating with just a slight 0.7 percent Republican bias factor.

Second, some of the geographic segmentation returns, however, appear a bit too optimistic for the Youngkin team. While the Washington, DC DMA sector breaking 56-39 percent for McAuliffe and the Roanoke/Lynchburg DMA posting a 49-46 percent edge for Youngkin are both wholly believable, the projections for two other segmented regions raise eyebrows.

Youngkin leading 51-44 percent in the Norfolk/Portsmouth/Newport News DMA, which also includes the Virginia Beach area, isn’t particularly consistent with the way the Tidewater region has voted in the most recent elections. Additionally, the same should be said for the Richmond/Petersburg DMA where WPAi sees Youngkin pulling ahead with a 48-44 percent split.

Third, these latter numbers appear too favorable for Youngkin, and particularly so in the Richmond/Petersburg area where the McAuliffe favorability rating in this same poll is 45:40 percent favorable to unfavorable. Conversely, however, if the trend were to continue for these two places and is proven accurate, it would basically signal a return to the voters’ previous electoral pattern. The Virginia historical election matrix was much better for Republicans than the numbers found in elections since the early 2000s.

Fourth, while the WPAi poll either did not test or release the Youngkin favorability ratio, it did publish the results for McAuliffe. Statewide, the former governor and ex-Democratic National Committee chairman, who served in his Virginia statewide elected position from 2013-17, posts only a 40:38 percent positive to negative rating.

McAuliffe scored well in the Washington DC DMA, 46:29 percent, and moderately well, as mentioned above, in Richmond/Petersburg (45:40 percent), but is underwater in Roanoke/ Lynchburg, 33:39 percent, which is believable due to the more Republican tendency found in the region. On the other hand, the former governor receives a surprisingly poor ratio from the Norfolk/Portsmouth/Newport News DMA. In this latter place, the McAuliffe index was a relatively severe 31:46 percent.

McAuliffe’s poor favorability rating would explain the ballot test preference leaning toward Youngkin in the Norfolk/Portsmouth/Newport News area, but the Richmond/ Petersburg result appears inconsistent. McAuliffe trails Youngkin 44-48 percent in the R/P region’s ballot test despite having a slightly positive personal rating.

Independents were a key plus for Youngkin, which could well become a deciding factor in the overall final election result if this pattern were to hold. The Independent segment tilts slightly in Youngkin’s favor, 44-43 percent on the straight ballot test, which is a notable improvement for a Virginia Republican candidate. Furthermore, the McAuliffe favorability index is an upside-down 32:40 percent within the partisan division. The pollsters did not publish how the men fared within the Republican and Democratic segments.

A poll such as this signals that the Virginia governor’s race not only begins in close fashion, but with both candidates having the ability to raise and spend large amounts of campaign capital we can expect an active and sustained campaign all the way through to election day on Nov. 2.

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