WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. — Democrat Terry McAuliffe maintains a small lead over Republican Glenn Youngkin according to the latest Monmouth University Poll of the Virginia governor’s race.
There has been very little movement in the race over the past month, but there is some potential volatility among voters in the central part of the commonwealth. Overall, McAuliffe holds an advantage on handling issues that are priorities for a great number of voters, particularly the pandemic.
Just under half (48%) of registered voters currently support McAuliffe while 43% back Youngkin. This is virtually unchanged from the Democrat’s 47% to 42% lead in Monmouth’s August poll. McAuliffe continues to have an advantage among voters of color – 83% to 3% among Black voters and 53% to 28% among Latinos, Asians, and multiracial voters. Youngkin holds a large 57% to 36% lead among white voters, but there is a split based on education. His lead with this group is largely due to white voters without a bachelor’s degree (66% to 28% for McAuliffe). White college graduates prefer McAuliffe (50% to 43% for Youngkin).
Looking at regional support, McAuliffe enjoys a large advantage in Northern Virginia (58% to 29%) and the eastern Tidewater region (56% to 34%). The Democrat’s 29-point NoVa lead is identical to his 29-point lead there in August (56% to 27%) while his 22-point Tidewater lead is up from 13 points (50% to 37%). Youngkin has a 24-point lead in western Virginia (58% to 34%), which is similar to his 30-point lead there last month (61% to 31%). Support in the central part of the commonwealth along the I-95 corridor has flipped. Youngkin holds a 51% to 40% edge in this region, whereas McAuliffe had a 53% to 43% lead there in August. Four years ago, incumbent Gov. Ralph Northam won NoVa by 35 points (67% to 32%), the Tidewater area by 13 points (56% to 43%) and the central region by 9 points (54% to 45%), while losing western Virginia by 23 points (38% to 61%).
“The central spine around Richmond appears to be the area with the greatest potential for actually swaying voters. Throughout most of Virginia, though, it’s more a matter of turning out the respective party’s bases,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.
A range of potential electorate scenarios* shows McAuliffe ahead by anywhere from 3 points (48% to 45%) to 7 points (50% to 43%) depending on the likely voter model. Youngkin does better when more low-propensity voters are included in the mix. Specifically, McAuliffe has a lead among voters who have cast ballots in every general election since 2016 (51% to 44%) and those who participated in 4 of the last 5 general elections (49% to 43%). Among those who voted in only 2 or 3 elections and are considered less reliable voters, the race is much closer (44% for McAuliffe and 42% for Youngkin).
When the potential electorate is limited to voters who cast ballots in the 2017 gubernatorial election, McAuliffe holds a 51% to 43% margin, which is nearly identical to the winning Democratic margin that year. Youngkin does have an advantage among voters who describe themselves as being more enthusiastic about this year’s race compared to past gubernatorial elections. The Republican nominee has a 57% to 40% lead among this group, which makes up 33% of all registered voters.
“Youngkin seems to do better if the turnout is unusually high, while McAuliffe does better if turnout is just slightly above average for a gubernatorial race. Youngkin has an enthusiasm advantage, but the problem with enthusiasm is that it’s not always a good barometer for turnout, particularly when early voting and mail balloting options make it easier for less engaged voters to turn out,” said Murray.
Monmouth’s August poll found Virginia voters have a wide range of policy concerns, but when asked in the current poll to choose the most important consideration from a list of seven policy areas, no single issue emerges. The top issues chosen as either a first or second choice for the most important factor in Virginians’ vote for governor are jobs and the economy (39%), the Covid pandemic (32%), and education and schools (31%).
Among these top three issues, McAuliffe has a clear advantage on being trusted more to handle the pandemic (41% to 28% for Youngkin) and a smaller edge on handling education and schools (37% to 33% for Youngkin). Virginia voters are evenly divided as to whether they trust Youngkin (36%) or McAuliffe (35%) more when it comes to jobs and the economy. These results are largely unchanged from last month.
The poll also finds that Virginia voters seem more aligned with the Democrat than the Republican on key pandemic policy positions. Specifically, 6 in 10 support reinstating face mask and social distancing guidelines (62%) and having a statewide Covid vaccine requirement for people in certain professions, such as health care workers and school teachers (59%).
McAuliffe also has an issue advantage on handling abortion (40% to 32%) and race relations (39% to 28%). Youngkin has a trust edge on handling police and law enforcement issues (39% to 33%) and taxes (37% to 33%). Each of these policy areas is a top-two concern for about 1 in 5 voters.
“McAuliffe has the edge on issues that are important to a greater number of voters than Youngkin does. This is true in each of the likely electorate models we examined as well as among all registered voters,” said Murray.
The major-party nominees earn similar personal ratings from Virginia voters – 40% favorable to 33% unfavorable for McAuliffe and 40% favorable to 31% unfavorable for Youngkin. About 3 in 10 voters (29%) say McAuliffe’s political views are in line with most Virginians and 24% say he is out of step, while 48% are not sure. For Youngkin, 24% say his views are in line with the state and 25% say they are out of step, while 51% are not sure. These results are largely unchanged from Monmouth’s August poll.
“Despite a televised debate and a slew of campaign advertising over the past month, the needle has barely moved on how Virginia voters view these two candidates,” said Murray.
The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from September 22 to 26 with 801 Virginia registered voters. The question results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.