A new VCU poll has 41 percent of likely voters supporting Democrat Terry McAuliffe and 38 percent supporting Republican Glenn Youngkin, a substantial tightening of the race since last month when McAuliffe led 43 percent to 34 percent among likely voters.
With only one week left until the election and the gubernatorial race in a dead heat, independent and discontent voters might likely decide who will be the next governor of Virginia.
Independent voters have increasingly identified with Youngkin (37 percent) rather than McAuliffe (31 percent), a six-point increase for Youngkin and a six-point decrease for McAuliffe since September.
Additionally, 10 percent of likely voters remain unhappy with either candidate. Of those, discontent voters identify more as Democrats than Republicans (11 percent and 8 percent respectively), bringing into question the impact that third-party candidate Princess Blanding might play on Election Day.
The poll featured landline and telephone interviews from Oct. 9-21, with a representative sample of 808 adults living in Virginia. It had a margin of error of 5.03 percent.
When considering likely voters only, the poll had a margin of error of 6.44 percent.
For the full poll results and analysis, visit rampages.us/commonwealthpoll.
Regionally, Youngkin made the biggest gains this past month in Tidewater, where he now leads over McAuliffe (38 percent to 34 percent), a seven-point improvement for Youngkin since last month’s poll. Youngkin also took the lead in the northwest region of the state (41 percent to 37 percent) where the candidates had previously been tied.
McAuliffe held his leads in Northern Virginia (53 percent to 31 percent) and south central Virginia (43 percent to 35 percent), while Youngkin held his lead in the western part of the state (51 percent to 30 percent).
According to likely voters, the top issues facing Virginia’s next governor are “the economy” (27 percent), “public schools” (20 percent), and “COVID-19” (19 percent). Voters trust Youngkin more than McAuliffe to handle the economy (48 percent to 40 percent), and McAuliffe more than Youngkin to handle public schools (45 percent to 42 percent) and COVID (45 percent to 39 percent), according to the poll.
In the race for lieutenant governor, Republican Winsome Sears has closed the gap on Democratic opponent Hala Ayala over the last month. Ayala now has the support of 36 percent of likely voters while Sears has 35 percent. In September Ayala held a three-point lead. The lack of a third-party candidate in the lieutenant governor race does not dismiss the impact of discontent voters on such a tight race. Of the 16 percent of likely voters who are still unhappy with either candidate, more are Democrats than Republicans (20 percent to 11 percent respectively).
The same trend exists for the candidates in the contest to be Virginia’s attorney general. Democrat Mark Herring leads 39 percent to 35 percent over his opponent, Republican Jason Miyares, among likely voters. However, Miyares has gained ground in each of the last three months while Herring has lost ground.
Once again, the tightening margins between both candidates could be impacted by discontent voters. Of the 14 percent of those surveyed who still do not favor either candidate, more describe themselves as Democrat then Republican (16 percent to 8 percent respectively).
With all 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates up for election this year as well, control of the House chamber is as heavily contested as all three statewide offices. Likely voters slightly prefer Democratic Party control over Republican Party control in the House of Delegates (43 percent to 42 percent respectively), with Republicans gaining three points since September.
Inside the numbers
Enthusiasm may play a critical role in deciding close contests. Among likely voters, 87 percent of Republicans say they “definitely will” vote versus 74 percent of Democrats and Independents. Additionally, 82 percent of Republicans said they would vote for Youngkin if the election were being held today versus 76 percent of Democrats saying the same for McAuliffe.
These close races in Virginia highlight a divide among citizens on their views about the direction of the commonwealth. Virginians are evenly divided when asked whether the state is “headed in the right direction” or “on the wrong track” (46 percent for both). The divided electorate seems to also be impacting their views of Gov. Ralph Northam. Less than half (46 percent) of Virginians approve of the job that he is doing, a five-point drop since August.
“The poll reflects a tightening of the race for the three top offices. The number of voters unhappy with either candidate for governor and the decrease in Northam’s approval rating is noteworthy,” said former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder.
However, Virginians are not divided on their views about the nation. Less than 1 in 3 Virginians reported feeling that things in this country were “headed in the right direction” (30 percent) while almost two-thirds reported feeling that things in this country “were on the wrong track” (65 percent).
This is also seen in President Joe Biden’s job performance ratings. Over half of Virginians (54 percent) disapprove of the job Biden is doing leading the country (a seven-point increase since August) while 41 percent approve (a 10-point decrease since August).