A Fox News poll released Thursday found 51 percent support for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe and 46 percent support for GOP candidate Glenn Youngkin among likely voters. A Trafalgar Group poll released the same day found Youngkin and McAuliffe practically tied among likely voters, with 48.4 percent support for Youngkin, and 47.5 percent support for McAuliffe. Real Clear Politics’ (RCP) polling average still places McAuliffe slightly ahead by 2.2 points.
After the polls were released, pundits criticized the Trafalgar poll, saying its high 18.5 point net disapproval rating for President Biden reveals problems with the poll’s methodology. RCP’s average places Biden national disapproval at 8.2 points.
“Trafalgar is a poll you want to look at in presidential election years. Otherwise, I can’t even take them seriously,” CNalysis Executive Director Chaz Nuttycombe said. “I’m sorry, that’s not even within a mile of the ballpark for Joe Biden to have that low of an approval rating in Virginia.”
Trafalgar is known for being more accurate than other pollsters when predicting Trump’s presidential results, but Nuttycombe doesn’t think the Trump effect applies when polling the Virginia gubernatorial.
“Trump was able to bring out a large number of voters. That’s quality, that’s what makes him a really good candidate. And I don’t think Youngkin is running the kind of populist rhetoric that’s able to get all these low-propensity, non-college white voters that came out and voted Republican,” he said.
Conversely, Nuttycombe thinks the Fox poll overestimates McAuliffe’s support, which gives McAuliffe an 11-point lead among registered voters, a widening lead compared to Fox’s September 30 poll showing a four-point lead for McAuliffe among registered voters.
Nuttycombe said the October Fox poll’s likely voter model with its five-point McAuliffe lead is also a little optimistic for Democrats.
“I think even their likely voter poll though, which has [McAuliffe] up five, is a little bit too bullish. So I want to say their poll is a little bit too rosy on the Democrats,” Nuttycombe said. “I still think this is going to be a race within five points.
Trafalgar conducted its poll October 11- October 13, with 1,095 respondents, and a 2.96 percent margin of error. The Fox poll was conducted from October 10-13 with 726 likely voters and a 3.5 percent margin of error. Those results place both candidates more or less tied, with a possible slight lead for McAuliffe.
Polarization Causes Stable Races
The race has stayed fairly stable for months in terms of polling. In June, a JMC Analytics poll funded by CNalysis donors found McAuliffe had 46 percent support among likely voters, but Youngkin hit 42 percent support, with a 4.2 percent margin of error — effectively tied with a possible lead for McAuliffe. A graph of the RCP polling average shows that there are fewer undecided voters as Election Day nears, and Youngkin has made some gains among independents. But McAuliffe’s lead has only decreased by about 4 percentage points since August.
Nuttycombe compared that to the 2009 race, when Democratic candidate Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) had a polling lead in June that gave way to an almost nine-point victory for Republican Bob McDonnell.
In 2021, Virginia doesn’t have an elastic electorate that can swing dramatically between political parties.
“The initial CNalysis rating was Lean Democrat, and a lot of people on the Democratic side of things weren’t really happy with that rating and I was kind of an outlier,” Nuttycombe said. He still hasn’t changed the rating.
That was early in Biden’s presidency and the honeymoon effect was boosting his popularity. But even with Biden’s popularity now underwater, the chances of a McAuliffe win haven’t changed much.
“Polarization is eating up the amount of voters that can actually have their mind changed,” he said. “Polarization has really made this race, despite Biden’s approval being so much worse, has made the race stable.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo “Glenn Youngkin” by Glenn Youngkin. Photo “Terry McAuliffe” by Terry McAuliffe. CC BY-SA 2.0. Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Will Weaver. CC BY-SA 2.0.