Enthusiasm gap and shift in voter priorities boost Youngkin
West Long Branch, NJ – With two weeks to go before Election Day, Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin are locked in a close battle for governor of Virginia. The last Monmouth (“Mon-muth”) University Poll of the race before the election marks a gain for the GOP candidate from prior polls. Youngkin’s improved position comes from a widening partisan gap in voter engagement and a shift in voters’ issue priorities, particularly around schools and the pandemic.
Youngkin (46%) and McAuliffe (46%) hold identical levels of support among all registered voters. This marks a shift from prior Monmouth polls where the Democrat held a 5-point lead (48% to 43% in September and 47% to 42% in August). A range of probabilistic likely electorate models* shows a potential outcome – if the election was held today – of anywhere from a 3-point lead for McAuliffe (48% to 45%) to a 3-point lead for Youngkin (48% to 45%). This is the first time the Republican has held a lead in Monmouth polls this cycle. All prior models gave the Democrat a lead (ranging from 2 to 7 points). A traditional “cut-off” model similar to what Monmouth used in elections prior to the 2018 midterm – which includes registered voters who cast a ballot in at least 2 of the last 4 general elections and report being “certain” or “likely” to vote, or have already voted – shows a close contest with 48% for McAuliffe and 46% for Youngkin.
The biggest swing in support from Monmouth’s last poll comes from independent voters, registering a 48% to 39% lead for Youngkin now compared with a 37% to 46% deficit in September. Youngkin has also cut into McAuliffe’s advantage with women voters. The Democrat currently has a narrow edge among women (47% to 43%), down from a sizable 14-point lead last month (52% to 38%).
Youngkin has increased his support in the reddest part of the commonwealth, western Virginia, where he currently leads McAuliffe by 66% to 27% (up from 58% to 34% in September). At the same time, McAuliffe has slipped slightly in heavily-blue Northern Virginia. He leads there by 58% to 34%. This is down only slightly from his 58% to 29% lead last month, however, incumbent Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam won this key region by 35 points (67% to 32%) in 2017. McAuliffe holds small leads in both the eastern Tidewater (48% to 42%) and central I-95/Richmond (48% to 41%) areas.
“Suburban women, especially in Northern Virginia, have been crucial to the sizable victories Democrats have enjoyed in the commonwealth since 2017. However, their support is not registering at the same level this time around. This is due partly to a shift in key issues important to these voters and partly to dampened enthusiasm among the party faithful,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.