Democrat Ralph Northam has a narrow edge over Republican Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor’s race, according to new survey results released Wednesday.
Among voters, 44 percent favor Northam, the state’s lieutenant governor, while 38 percent back Gillespie, according to the poll by Quinnipiac University. Libertarian candidate Cliff Hyra drew 4 percent.
The latest poll findings are similar to a survey released Tuesday by Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. Northam’s advantage in both polls are statistically insignificant.
The general election campaign is still in early stages, with neither candidate launching a sustained advertising blitz yet. Gillespie began airing ads late last month.
Quinnipiac’s last polling of the Virginia governor’s race, shortly after the June 13 primary, gave Northam an eight-point lead and did not include Hyra as an option.
The latest poll sheds light on how President Trump and the economy could factor into voter decision-making in November.
Northam often criticizes Trump’s policies and called him a “narcissistic maniac” in a widely aired commercial during the primary campaign. Gillespie, who largely avoided discussing the president during the primary, has embraced Trump more openly this summer and has criticized Northam’s rhetoric.
Trump’s approval rating continues to be low in the commonwealth, with 36 percent of Virginia voters approving of his performance and nearly 61 percent disapproving.
And more voters seem to be wary of having a Trump-supporting governor, with 48 percent saying they were less likely to vote for a gubernatorial candidate who backs Trump compared with 21 percent who said they were more likely.
But Trump opponents in Virginia are far from united for Northam. Support for the Democrat lags behind the president’s disapproval rating, while Gillespie is slightly outperforming Trump’s approval rating, suggesting Northam has room to grow or his opponent has been insulating himself from an unpopular president.
“Ed Gillespie apparently has been able to convince many voters that he is his own man,” said Pete Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Gillespie is within six percentage points of Northam despite President Donald Trump’s unpopularity in the Old Dominion.”
Part of Gillespie’s strength comes from independent voters: He leads them by nine points over Northam, even though 40 percent of them say they are less likely to back a candidate who support Trump. A quarter of independent voters were either undecided or backed Hyra.
Gillespie, a former political operative who chaired the Republican National Committee and almost unseated Sen. Mark R. Warner (D) in 2014, has made improving Virginia’s economy and cutting taxes the focus of his gubernatorial campaign.
The Quinnipiac poll suggested Virginian voters are largely content with the economy. Two-thirds said the economy is good (and 7 percent described it as excellent), and about three-quarters described their personal financial situation as good or excellent.
However, only 28 percent of voters thought the state economy is getting better, while 10 percent believe it is getting worse and 61 percent believe it is staying about the same.
The poll also found health care was a more pressing concern for voters, with 36 percent listing it as the top issue in the governor’s race, compared with 25 percent who listed the economy and 11 percent who listed taxes.
Voters thought Northam would do a better job handling health care than Gillespie by a 10-point margin, while they gave Gillespie a slight edge for handling taxes and the economy.
Along with the governor’s race, the November ballot features races for lieutenant governor, attorney general and all 100 seats in the House of Delegates.
Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,082 Virginia voters between Aug. 3 and Aug. 8. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.