New poll shows virtual ties in races for Virginia governor, attorney general

Virginia Politics

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Republicans have not won statewide in Virginia in over a decade, but weeks before Election Day a new poll shows that the races for governor and attorney general are virtually tied.

A Nexstar/Emerson College poll released Wednesday shows Democrat Terry McAuliffe with 49% of support among likely voters in the governor’s race and Republican Glenn Youngkin with 48%, a difference well within the survey’s margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points. While early voting for the Nov. 2 election is already underway, two percent of likely voters said they were still undecided.

“What we would really expect in a normal year, a Democrat against a Republican, based on the data we’ve had in recent elections, is that McAuliffe should cruise to a comfortable victory. But that’s not what we’re seeing in the polls,” said 8News political analyst Rich Meagher.

Emerson poll - If election for Governor were help today?

The poll of 620 likely voters, conducted from Oct. 1-3, also shows Attorney General Mark Herring in a statistical tie with his Republican challenger, Del. Jason Miyares (Virginia Beach). Herring, the only incumbent running statewide, has 46% support among likely voters and Miyares has 44%. Ten percent of likely voters said they were unsure about who they would vote for in the race.

The gap between McAuliffe, a former governor, and Youngkin, a political newcomer, has tightened compared to a similar poll from mid-September that found McAuliffe ahead 49% to 45% among likely voters, a difference within that poll’s margin of error.

Unlike the previous poll, third-party candidate Princess Blanding was included in the latest survey and received 0.4% of support. Blanding’s place on the ballot is more of threat for McAuliffe than Youngkin in a tight race, Meagher says, because she could siphon votes from the former governor.

“I think there is a way that Blanding is energizing a certain group of voters who if they had to choose between McAuliffe and Youngkin would probably choose McAuliffe,” he said. “So, that’s concerning for McAuliffe.” 

Meagher, a political science professor at Randolph-Macon College, added that Blanding is McAuliffe’s challenge from the left and that his campaign could be hoping that her coalition of supporters were not going to vote for him in the first place and that his margin of victory would be large enough to withstand a third-party challenge.

Even though the major-party candidates remain in a competitive race, 55% of those surveyed said they think McAuliffe will ultimately win the election.

“No matter what, whether you think McAuliffe is going to win or not, we’re at least not seeing in the polls any reflection of that. We’re seeing McAuliffe ahead all the time, but not by much,” Meagher noted.

This Thursday, WAVY-TV will host a roundtable discussion with McAuliffe and Youngkin and the taped conversations will be broadcast at 7 p.m. on WAVY in Norfolk, WRIC in Richmond and WFXR in Roanoke, and other Nexstar stations in the region. 

Miyares also cut into his opponent’s lead in the new poll, gaining three percentage points and pushing the difference between him and Herring within the survey’s margin of error.

Emerson poll - If the election for Attorney General were held today?

The poll’s subset of undecided voters is much smaller in the governor’s race than in the attorney general’s race. But a majority of likely voters who said they were undecided shared they were leaning towards the Republicans in both races, with 65% favoring Miyares over Herring and 69% favoring Youngkin over McAuliffe.

While the statewide races in Virginia have garnered much of the attention, all 100 House of Delegates seats are also on the ballot this year. Support for the state legislature, which has been under Democratic control for the last two years, was split among the respondents.

Forty percent of likely voters said they disapprove of the job Virginia’s legislature has been doing, with 36% saying they approve and 24% saying they were not sure or had no opinion.

President Joe Biden’s presence in the White House could cost Virginia Democrats in the elections, the poll suggests. From 1977 until McAuliffe’s win in 2013, the losing gubernatorial candidate came from the same political party that won the presidential election the year before. Biden carried Virginia by 10% last November, but his approval rating has dropped in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

When asked about Biden’s job performance, 48% of respondents said they disapprove and 45% said they approve. While respondents were split on their political party affiliation (37.2% Democrat, 33.1% Republican, 29.7% independent), 53% said they voted for Biden over Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Meagher says with a more nationalized approach to state politics, voters now tend to connect local candidates with the policies of those in national politics.

“Nothing is insulated from national politics anymore,” said Meagher. “McAuliffe is suffering from Biden, and I think he hopes that Youngkin will suffer from Trump, that’s been his whole campaign strategy, but Trump is not in office. So that’s not quite as present or as effective a kind of albatross to hang around Youngkin’s neck as Biden seems to be these days for McAuliffe.” 

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9%, with higher margins of error for subsets based on gender, age, party breakdown, ethnicity and region. Emerson College contacted likely voters using cellphone sample using SMS-to-web, a landline sample using IVR and an online panel provided by Amazon MTurk.

Nexstar Media Group, the parent company of WRIC 8News, contracted Emerson College to conduct the poll. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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