RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A new statewide poll shows Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin locked in a tied race for Virginia governor with just over a week to go until Election Day.
An 8News/Emerson College poll of 875 likely voters released Monday has McAuliffe and Youngkin both with 48% of support, the closest the candidates have been during this election cycle. The survey was conducted Oct. 22-23 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2%.
Youngkin, a first-time candidate, has closed the gap between himself and McAuliffe, the state’s governor from 2014-2018. Since September, there has been a noticeable shift that could indicate voters’ growing enthusiasm for Republican leadership in a state that hasn’t voted a GOP gubernatorial candidate into office in over a decade.
“I think this race is closer than a lot of people thought it would be,” 8News political analyst Rich Meagher said.
Compared to similar polls conducted in the last two months, support for Youngkin has grown whereas McAuliffe’s support has waned ahead of the Nov. 2 election.
An 8News/Emerson College poll from September had McAuliffe ahead by four points, 49%-45%, a difference within that survey’s margin of error. Another survey conducted earlier this month found the candidates in a virtual tie. The latest poll, similar to the results from a Monmouth University poll released last week, now shows a tied race between the major-party candidates.
Princess Blanding, running in the governor’s race under the Liberation Party, received 1% of support. Even though undecided voters make up a small subset of the poll, only 3%, the survey found a majority are breaking for McAuliffe.
“Throughout these three polls we have conducted, McAuliffe has had a lead in Northern Virginia and the Southeast part of Virginia. That has stayed relatively stable. Really what has been happening is that Youngkin has made gains in the Eastern and Western parts of the state,” Isabel Holloway, an Emerson College polling data analyst, said Monday.
Virginia has been thrust into the national political spotlight this year as the governor’s race is being viewed as a bellwether for next year’s midterms. Prominent campaign surrogates and supporters, including two U.S. presidents, have visited Virginia to rally voters and push turnout.
Former President Barack Obama campaigned with McAuliffe in Richmond over the weekend and President Joe Biden plans on stumping for his fellow Democrat for a second time this election cycle on Tuesday. While Biden carried Virginia by 10 percentage points in the 2020 presidential election, his approval rating has continued to dip.
Although 53% of respondents in Monday’s poll said they voted for Biden over former President Donald Trump, 52% said they disapprove of Biden’s job performance as president. These figures could spell trouble for McAuliffe and other Democratic candidates running in Virginia.
Voters’ top issues in this election cycle vary depending on their party affiliation. Twenty-eight percent of respondents who identified themselves as Republicans believe education is the most important issue facing Virginia and 22% of Democratic voters say COVID-19 is their top issue.
Youngkin, who kicked off a statewide bus tour on Saturday, has turned his attention to education in the final stretch of the election, pointing to two sexual assault allegations against a student at two different Loudoun County schools and parents’ frustrations with school boards over mask mandates and curriculum as key examples of Democratic overreach.
Overall, respondents were split between education (21%), jobs (15%), COVID-19 (14%) and taxes (10%) as their top issues.
The attorney general’s race is also neck and neck. Democratic incumbent Mark Herring has a three-point advantage, 47%-44%, over Republican candidate Jason Miyares, a gap within the poll’s margin of error. When allocating the 7% of undecided voters, Del. Miyares cuts Herring’s slight edge to one point.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2%, 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.
Virginia voters will cast their ballot for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in the election. All 100 House of Delegates seats, certain local races and referendums will also be on ballot.
Early voting started Sept. 17 in Virginia and early in-person voting ends Oct. 30. Election Day is Nov. 2.