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.