A fresh poll of the Virginia gubernatorial contest shows Republican Glenn Youngkin leading Democrat Terry McAuliffe among likely voters. The survey was released days after the Washington Post's poll of the race showed the contest statistically tied, with McAuliffe slightly ahead. Let's take a peek at both data sets, with election day just weeks away. First, the better poll for Youngkin, via the University of Mary Washington:
Another poll showing a close contest in the Virginia Governor’s race. A new University of Mary Washington survey shows Terry McAuliffe 43%, Glenn Youngkin 38% but among likely voters, it’s Youngkin 48%, McAuliffe 43%. @nbcwashington— Julie Carey (@JulieCareyNBC) September 22, 2021
In a poll from the University of Mary Washington, 48% of likely voters said they supported Youngkin, the Republican nominee, while 43% backed McAuliffe. Another 2% backed a third-party candidate, Princess Blanding, and 5% said they did not know. Early voting has been underway since last week in the race, which is being closely watched by Democrats for signs of how next year’s midterms may go. Among all voters in the poll, McAuliffe was ahead, with 43% support to Youngkin’s 38%, meaning that Youngkin’s lead is likely due to higher Republican enthusiasm in the contest.
The GOP nominee's five-point lead is slightly beyond the poll's margin of error. Bloomberg's write-up also offers this historical note: "Since the 1970s, the party opposing the incumbent president has prevailed in the Virginia governor’s race every time except for McAuliffe’s prior win in 2013." For decades, Virginia voters have gravitated toward the party opposite the White House, often decisively. For instance, in 2009, following the Democratic/Obama wave cycle (including a blue Virginia), Virginians elected a Republican governor by roughly 18 points. After Donald Trump won the presidency, the Commonwealth's voters elected Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Blackface) by nearly nine points. The story points out that the lone exception to this longstanding pattern was the back-to-back victories for Obama and McAuliffe in 2012 and 2013, respectively. If McAuliffe manages to win this November -- in spite of the direction of the country, the partisan control of Washington, and the falling approval of the president -- Virginia's status as a purple state will take another clear step in the blue direction. WaPo's poll shows a very close race, with the Democrat ahead within the margin of error. Turnout and enthusiasm, as always, will be critical, as this is looking like a jump-ball battle. Some of the internal numbers from the Post survey must be concerning to Democrats nationally, despite the slightly favorable top line:
Biggest crosstab from the poll: Youngkin leads McAuliffe by 20 percentage points in the Northern Virginia exurbs that include Prince William and Loudoun counties, a region Democrat Ralph Northam won by five points in 2017. https://t.co/sL4kLTG2z0— Scott Clement (@sfcpoll) September 17, 2021
This may not be enough for a statewide Republican in Virginia, but the same shift across the country would be an absolute bloodbath for Democrats. https://t.co/ders9FFUg8— Dan McLaughlin (@baseballcrank) September 21, 2021
The Northern Virginia exurbs have broken sharply toward Democrats in recent years, so a major swing toward Youngkin among these voters would obviously make him at least competitive statewide. And if indies shift anywhere close to 27 points in the red direction, that would be dramatic. McLaughlin's point about a rightward lurch among independent and unaffiliated voters in 2022 is well-taken, but Republicans believe they have a real chance to win in Virginia. Some key outstanding questions may be whether the GOP base shows up in force down state, where Youngkin needs to run up the score -- and whether deep blue NoVa suburban voters' turnout rates are substantially diminished without Trump on the ballot. McAuliffe has been lying incessantly about Youngkin in television ads and in the recent gubernatorial debate. The Youngkin team produced an ad nailing the Democrat over his falsehoods, citing media and even Democrat-leaning 'fact checkers' to expose their opponent:
Team Youngkin has also called out McAuliffe's deceitful framing of the Republican as "anti-vaccine," showcased the Democrat's reheated campaign rhetoric, and highlighted McAuliffe's radicalism on abortion:
I'll leave you with my Youngkin interview from earlier this week, along with another recent poll, this one from a conservative group, that points to a tight race -- with McAuliffe holding an edge. Virginia has become a blue-ish purple state. It will take an all-hands-on-deck effort from Republicans and right-drifting independents to deliver the GOP its first statewide victory in more than a decade.