Democrat Terry McAuliffe holds a statistically insignificant lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli (35%-33%), while 22 percent of likely voters in Virginia remain undecided in the 2013 Gubernatorial election, according to The Roanoke College Poll. Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis claimed 8 percent of respondents. The Poll has a margin of error of +3.3 percent.
In the down-ticket races, Democrat Ralph Northam narrowly leads Republican E. W. Jackson for lieutenant governor (Northam—34%, Jackson—30%, Undecided—33%), and Democrat Mark Herring and Republican Mark Obenshain are in a statistical dead-heat for Attorney General (Herring—33%, Obenshain—31%, Undecided—34%).
Likely voters continue to learn more about the candidates, but they don’t feel very positive about their major party choices. Both candidates are “underwater” again in terms of favorable/unfavorable ratings (Cuccinelli—28% favorable, 42% unfavorable; McAuliffe—27% favorable, 31% unfavorable). While the percentage of respondents who said they did not know enough about the candidates to have an opinion about them is just over half of what it was in the July Roanoke College Poll, most of that shift for each candidate went to the unfavorable category.
More than half of those who said they would vote for McAuliffe (55%) said their choice was more a vote against Cuccinelli than for McAuliffe. An almost identical percentage (56%) of Cuccinelli supporters said their vote was a vote for Cuccinelli, not a vote against McAuliffe.
Respondents were asked to rate the candidates on a 1 to 10 scale (1 is lowest, 10 highest) on several characteristics. McAuliffe was ranked higher on honesty (Mean=5.16 to 5.00), understanding problems of people like the respondent (5.02-4.60), and understanding the problems facing Virginia (5.57-5.32). Cuccinelli was ranked higher on the right experience to be governor (5.58-5.32). Likely voters clearly see ideological differences between the candidates. With 1 as conservative and 10 as liberal, McAuliffe earned an average 6.69 rating, while Cuccinelli was rated at 3.43. Respondents rated themselves a collective 5.38 on that same scale.
Likely voters are much more familiar with the potential problems with Cuccinelli’s candidacy as compared to McAuliffe. Less than half (46%) of respondents were somewhat or very familiar with Green Tech automotive and McAuliffe’s involvement with the company run by Hillary Clinton’s brother. One-third (32%) said those stories made them less likely to vote for McAuliffe. By contrast, nearly two-thirds (64%) were at least somewhat familiar with Star Scientific and the Attorney General’s office involvement with CONSOL Energy. Just over one-third (35%) said those stories made them less likely to vote for Cuccinelli.
The sources of support for each candidate follow what the pollsters expected. There is a significant gender gap and racial differences. Independents are nearly twice as likely to be undecided as either Republicans or Democrats. Moderates and conservatives are twice as likely to be undecided as liberals. Cuccinelli holds an insignificant lead among Independents (31%-30%), and McAuliffe leads among moderates (42%-23%). Regional differences appear to smaller than in most elections.
Respondents were asked the first thought or word that came to mind when we read the name of each candidate. No choices were read. More than 70 percent of respondents offered some type of response, ranging from “strong leader” to “OK” to “questionable” to descriptions that cannot be printed in a newspaper article. The most common response for each candidate was “dishonest” (McAuliffe—13%; Cuccinelli 10%). “Conservative” (9%) was a close second for Cuccinelli. Responses for McAuliffe were more across the board and difficult to categorize. To be sure, both candidates were described in positive terms by many likely voters, but the negative responses were also numerous. Due to the sheer number of responses and their range, the poll did not attempt to categorize them as positive or negative.
Likely voters’ attention remains focused on the economy. The most important issues in the campaign are the economy (25%) and unemployment (13%). The only other issues to be named by more than 5 percent of the likely voters were education (8%), transportation (6%), and health care (6%).
Virginians reported paying more attention to the campaign as compared to July responses. More than two-thirds (68%) of likely voters say they have thought some or quite a lot about the election. Still, almost one-third (31%) report only having thought a little about the election.
“Voters continue to learn more about the candidates, but, in this case, familiarity appears to be breeding contempt,” said Dr. Harry Wilson, director of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research. “Both candidates are now viewed in an unfavorable light.”
“In an election that will probably come down to who is better at turning out their supporters, Cuccinelli seems to be motivating people on both sides. Likely McAuliffe voters are as motivated to stop Cuccinelli as they are to elect their candidate. When we asked voters to play word association, neither candidate was characterized in a positive way. When ‘dishonest’ is the most common response to each, you know the candidates are not generally popular. McAuliffe’s position has certainly improved since the July Roanoke College Poll, but there are still many likely voters who are undecided.”
A copy of the questionnaire and frequencies, as well as crosstabs, may be found on the Roanoke College web site.