“Here we are, almost in September, and it’s close to decision-making time,” said former Democratic governor L. Douglas Wilder, marveling over the high number of undecided voters in the poll, conducted by VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. “It tells me that they both have work to do.”
In the VCU poll, 40 percent of likely voters said they would vote for McAuliffe, a former governor, and 37 percent for Youngkin, a former private equity executive. McAuliffe’s lead among likely voters in that survey is within the margin of error, plus or minus 5.1 percentage points.
The Roanoke College poll, meanwhile, finds McAuliffe has an eight-point lead among likely voters over Youngkin (46 percent to 38 percent), with 13 percent undecided. That poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
Differences in the polls’ findings could stem from methodology. In the Roanoke sample of likely voters, 27 percent had postgraduate degrees, a group that leans blue. The sample was weighted to match the 2017 National Election Pool’s gubernatorial exit poll, which was conducted before the NEP changed its methods to correct for overrepresentation of voters with more education.
The VCU survey’s overall sample of voting-age adults was weighted to match Census demographics, with results among likely voters based on a subset.
McAuliffe and Youngkin are vying to succeed Gov. Ralph Northam (D), whom the state constitution bans from serving consecutive terms. McAuliffe, who left office in January 2018, is only the second Virginia governor to seek a comeback since the Civil War.
The Roanoke poll shows voters view McAuliffe more favorably than unfavorably, but by not-overwhelming margins. Forty-four percent said they have a favorable view of McAuliffe, a former political fundraiser, Democratic National Committee chairman and entrepreneur, while 32 percent said they had an unfavorable view and 21 percent were unsure.
Two percent of voters in the Roanoke survey said they will vote for third-party candidate Princess Blanding.
For Youngkin, the figures were 27 percent favorable, 21 percent unfavorable — and 50 percent having no opinion of him. The result suggests that flooding the airwaves with biographical ads has not yet done enough to help Youngkin, a former Carlyle Group executive, introduce himself to Virginians.
Youngkins has pitched himself as an outsider who can shake up the status quo in Richmond — an approach the Roanoke results call into question. That poll found 48 percent of voters prefer a candidate with government experience, while 38 percent favor business experience.
The Roanoke poll also found 52 percent of voters approve of the job Northam is doing, while 38 percent disapprove. That could be good news for McAuliffe, who has characterized Northam’s term as an extension of his own.
Two other statewide offices will be on the ballot Nov. 2. Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), who is seeking a third term, has the largest lead of all statewide candidates in the VCU poll. In that survey, 41 percent of likely voters said they will vote for him, 30 percent for Del. Jason S. Miyares (R-Virginia Beach), with 10 percent undecided and 19 percent saying they are unwilling to vote for either one.
In the race for lieutenant governor, Del. Hala S. Ayala (D-Prince William) leads former Republican delegate Winsome E. Sears 39 percent to 31 percent, with 12 percent undecided and 17 percent unwilling to vote for either one.
Voters will also choose delegates for all 100 seats in the state House, where Democrats have a 55-45 majority. The Senate, which Democrats control 21-19, is not up for election.
Voters prefer that Democrats maintain control of the House 44 percent to 40 percent, according to the VCU poll.
The Roanoke survey found voters were much more likely to think Virginia has been moving too far to the left (41 percent) than to the right (6 percent). Since taking control of the General Assembly in 2020, Democrats have accomplished a host of liberal goals, including repealing the death penalty, legalizing marijuana, raising the minimum wage and passing anti-discrimination measures for LGBT individuals.
But the Roanoke survey also found voters took a dimmer view of Republicans (29 percent favorable, 50 percent favorable) than Democrats (41 percent favorable, 47 percent unfavorable). They saw the Black Lives Matter movement more favorably (45 percent favorable, 36 percent unfavorable) than the National Rifle Association (33 percent favorable, 43 percent unfavorable).
The VCU polled 823 adults from Aug. 4 through Aug. 15. Of those, 770 were likely voters. Roanoke’s Institute for Policy and Opinion Research interviewed 558 likely voters between Aug. 3 and Aug. 17.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.