The Virginia governor’s race, illustrated

For about a month, consensus among both Democrats and Republicans watching the Virginia governor’s race has been that former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe leads Republican Ken Cuccinelli, the state’s attorney general, by a small but significant margin. Two new polls, from the Washington Post/Abt-SRBI and NBC4/NBC News/Marist, confirm that consensus.

Here’s where the race stands now:

In a head-to-head matchup, without Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis, McAuliffe leads by 5 points:

That’s the best way to compare the race to our May survey, which showed Cuccinelli leading by 5 points among registered voters and by 10 points among likely voters:

What changed over the summer? Take a look at the results, then and now, by gender. Here’s the May survey, broken down among male and female voters:

Now, here’s how McAuliffe and Cuccinelli are doing among male voters today:

And among women:

Here’s that change over time in starker relief:

McAuliffe’s growth, and Cuccinelli’s decline, among women voters is a big part of McAuliffe’s lead. Democrats have focused on Cuccinelli’s positions on everything from abortion and Virginia’s sodomy law to the state’s divorce laws and the Violence Against Women Act — basically, anything that drives a wedge between Cuccinelli and women voters.

Here’s one ad that’s pretty representative of McAuliffe’s strategy:

And check out the difference in Cuccinelli’s approval rating among men and women:

Another way to view the contest is through the lens of race. Republicans have argued that non-white voters won’t back McAuliffe to the degree they backed President Obama in 2012. Here’s how the 2012 and 2008 presidential contests broke down in Virginia, by race:

In our May poll, Republicans had a point. Here’s the breakdown among whites and non-whites from that survey:

And here’s where the race stands today among white voters:

And among non-whites:

Here’s that change over time:

McAuliffe’s lead is built almost entirely on his growth among those two segments of the electorate — women and non-white voters.

Then again, Cuccinelli isn’t out of the game yet. Turnout in gubernatorial years is well below turnout levels in presidential years; minorities and younger voters, two groups predisposed to voting for Democrats, show up in lighter numbers in odd-numbered years. We took a look at the turnout factor a few weeks ago; if an older, whiter, more conservative electorate shows up at the polls in November, then Cuccinelli can win.

But right now, McAuliffe is in the driver’s seat.

Reid Wilson covers national politics and Congress for The Washington Post. He is the author of Read In, The Post’s morning tip sheet on politics.



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Niraj Chokshi · September 24, 2013