Poll: McAuliffe holds slight lead over Cuccinelli, but candidates largely unknown

July 18, 2013

Terry McAuliffe still holds a slight lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli II in the race for Virginia governor, but half of voters don’t know enough about the veteran Democratic fundraiser to make up their minds with less than four months to go until Election Day, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday morning.

The survey shows McAuliffe with a 43 percent to 39 percent lead over Cuccinelli, who has served as the state’s attorney general since 2010. The numbers are similar to the university’s May 15 poll, which showed McAuliffe with a 43 percent to 38 percent advantage over Cuccinelli.

Only a third of voters say they know Cuccinelli.

“With such a large segment of the electorate unfamiliar with either candidate, there is a lot of movement possible, in either direction,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

The candidates for lieutenant governor — who will serve as the tie-breaker in an evenly divided state Senate — and attorney general are even less known.

Despite grabbing headlines for controversial remarks on abortion, race and homosexuality soon after his nomination in May, 81 percent of voters said they haven’t heard enough about lieutenant gubernatorial candidate E.W. Jackson (R), a Chesapeake minister, to have an opinion about him. His opponent, state Sen. Ralph S. Northam (D-Norfolk), is unknown by 90 percent of voters in the poll.

In the attorney general’s race, 88 percent and 85 percent of voters said the didn’t know either state Sen. Mark S. Herring (D-Loudoun) or state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburn), respectively.

Republicans nominated their statewide ticket in May, and Democrats chose their ticket in a primary contest last month. Since then, the candidates have been crisscrossing the state, meeting voters and raising money. The gubernatorial candidates will face off Saturday in their first debate.

McAuliffe’s lead is largely due to women voters, who responded that they preferred him 48 percent to 32 percent. Women emerged early as a key demographic in the contest, with both sides claiming to be the best candidate for women voters on social issues like abortion and women’s health care and kitchen table issues like jobs and the economy.

A Washington Post poll conducted in May showed Cuccinelli with a 46 to 41 percent edge over McAuliffe among all Virginia voters six months ahead of Election Day, and a significant 51 to 41 percent lead among those who said they are certain to vote in November.

So far, the investigation into Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and more than $145,000 in gifts and loans he received from a prominent donor does not appear to be a factor in the race for who will succeed him. Asked whether the controversy would be a factor in their vote, 70 percent said no, and 14 percent said it would make them less likely to vote for Cuccinelli.

The attorney general also has a relationship with Star Scientific chief executive officer Jonnie R. Williams Sr. A state prosecutor announced Thursday that he found no evidence that Cuccinelli broke the law when he failed to disclose his stock holdings in Star Scientific and some gifts from Williams.

Ten percent of those asked said the controversy would make them more likely to vote for Cuccinelli. Voters approve 47 percent to 34 percent of the job Cuccinelli is doing as state attorney general, unchanged from the May 15 poll.

A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday showed 44 percent of voters thought McDonnell’s ties to Williams were “just politics” and not a “major issue.” While 41 percent of voters said they are not satisfied with the way the governor is handling the controversy, 44 percent found him honest and trustworthy. Sixteen percent said McDonnell should resign.

Nearly a month after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, half of voters in Virginia said they support allowing same-sex couples to marry in the state, compared to 43 percent who oppose it. Women back the issue 55 percent to 39 percent, while men are opposed 49 percent to 43 percent. White voters are in support 51 percent to 43 percent, and black voters oppose same-sex marriage 48 percent to 42 percent.

Eight months after President Barack Obama won Virginia for a second time, voters disapprove 51 percent to 46 percent of the job he’s doing, down from 49 percent to 47 percent on May 15.

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