Virginia's Governor Race Is Shaping Up To Be A Close One

And more of the latest polling news.
A gubernatorial debate takes place between Republican candidate Ed Gillespie, left, and Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam on Sept. 19 in McLean, Virginia.
A gubernatorial debate takes place between Republican candidate Ed Gillespie, left, and Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam on Sept. 19 in McLean, Virginia.
The Washington Post via Getty Images

Virginians will head to the polls to choose a new governor in less than a month, and as three new surveys show, the race is shaping up to be a close one.

Two surveys released Tuesday give the Democratic candidate, Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a modest edge over Ed Gillespie, the Republican former chair of the Republican National Committee. One poll, from Christopher Newport University, puts Northam up by 4 points ― the first time, the pollsters note, that they’ve found his lead within the margin of error. The other, from Roanoke College, gives him a 6-point advantage. Both are in keeping with previous surveys of the race, which have largely found Northam ahead, but far from comfortably so.


A third poll, from Monmouth University, shows Northam taking 47 percent to Gillespie’s 48 percent. That the poll shows Northam underwater for the first time isn’t in itself especially significant, beyond indicating that the race is indeed tight. Several previous surveys, including a July Monmouth poll, found the two men tied. But the new results represent a downturn for Northam from the outlet’s previous poll, which gave him a 5-point edge.

“This has never been more than a five point race in Monmouth’s polling, and that means either candidate has a very real shot at winning this thing,” Patrick Murray, Monmouth’s polling director, said in a statement. “We have seen lots of little movement that has either helped or hurt each candidate but with neither one being able to break out.”

Murray credited the shift in part to Gillespie’s controversial ad campaign painting his opponent as soft on crime, and accusing him of enabling the MS-13 gang.

With few other competing elections happening this year, the Virginia gubernatorial race has comes under a national spotlight. President Donald Trump, who endorsed Gillespie, used Twitter to accuse Northam of “fighting for” MS-13. But Trump is unpopular in the state, and Gillespie has largely sought to keep his distance from the president.

“Importantly for Gillespie, he’s not seen as someone who is Trumpian,” Geoffrey Skelley of Sabato’s Crystal Ball wrote in a comprehensive look at the state of the campaign. But he noted that Gillespie ”has in some ways taken pages out of the same playbook Trump used in 2016″ by focusing on crime and immigration.

Former President Barack Obama, meanwhile, is heading to the state Thursday to campaign for Northam. Former Vice President Joe Biden also made an appearance last weekend.

Despite Northam’s apparent edge, Democrats are concerned about the race, citing internal campaign polling that shows Gillespie well within striking distance, according to The Daily Beast. Virginia Democrats have also underperformed at the polls in several recent elections, although that calculus could look different under a Republican presidency.

“Republicans have closed well in the last weeks of the campaign in the 2013 gubernatorial contest and in Gillespie’s challenge to Sen. Mark Warner in 2014,” Roanoke College poll director Harry Wilson noted in the survey release. “Republicans came up short both times, but the results on Election Day were closer than most, if not all, polls had predicted.”

The Monmouth poll surveyed 408 likely voters between Oct. 12-16, while the Christopher Newport poll surveyed 642 likely voters between Oct. 9-13, and Roanoke College surveyed 607 likely voters from Oct. 8-13. All three polls used live interviewers to reach both landlines and cell phones.


THE NFL PROTESTERS ARE GETTING THEIR MESSAGE ACROSS - HuffPost: “The NFL players who have been kneeling during the national anthem as a way to protest police brutality aren’t winning any new fans, a HuffPost/YouGov poll finds. But they are, increasingly, making their point to the public. Asked to identify from a list the main reason the players are protesting, a 57 percent majority of Americans surveyed said it was in response to ‘police violence.’ That’s up from 48 percent in a HuffPost/YouGov poll taken in late September. (Respondents were allowed to select multiple options.) The percentage of self-described football fans who say they believe the protests are meant to target police violence has risen to 66 percent, a 13-point increase….Notably, even people who don’t support the protests have grown more likely to see them as a response to police violence….Americans’ overall opinions of the protests and Trump’s response to them have remained both unsparing and basically stagnant, according to the poll.” [HuffPost]

MOST SAY PUERTO RICO NEEDS MORE HELP - Bianca DiJulio, Cailey Muñana, and Mollyann Brodie: “To better understand the public’s awareness of the damage to Puerto Rico and their assessment of the federal government’s response, the Kaiser Family Foundation polled the public on these issues and found a large majority are aware of the severity of the hurricane’s impact on Puerto Rico and most (62 percent) say the people there are not yet getting the help they need. In terms of the federal government’s response, about half feel the federal government is not doing enough to restore electricity and access to food and water (52 percent) and that the response has been too slow (52 percent). The largest share place the blame for problems restoring basic services on a slow response by the federal government (44 percent), followed by 32 percent who place blame on disorganization at the local level and 10 percent who blame lack of coverage by the news media.” [KFF]

APPROVAL DROPS FOR TRUMP’S HANDLING OF RECENT HURRICANES - Jennifer Agiesta: “In mid-September, 64% of Americans said they approved of Trump’s handling of the US hurricane response. That finding followed his administration’s handling of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which hit the US mainland in late-August and September. Now, as many Puerto Ricans remain without access to clean water or electricity nearly a month after Maria hit, just 44% say they approve….His ratings are down 9 points among Republicans, 22 points among independents and 25 points among Democrats....Among Hispanics, approval for Trump’s handling of hurricane response has dropped from 49% in September to 22% now.” [CNN]

MOST AMERICANS DON’T WANT TO SEE THE ACA DRIVEN TO FAILURE - Jeffrey Young: “President Donald Trump seems to think the American public will blame Democrats for the consequences of the actions he’s taken to weaken the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance markets. A new poll suggests he’s wrong. Seventy-one percent of Americans believe Trump should be doing all he can to make the health insurance exchanges work as well as possible, according to a survey conducted earlier this month by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. This is consistent with the foundation’s previous survey findings….To be sure, Republicans were much more evenly split on the president’s strategy than Democrats and independents: 48 percent of Republicans said Trump should try to make the Affordable Care Act work, and 43 percent said that he should make it fail.” [HuffPost]


Trump job approval among all Americans: 39% approve, 57% disapprove

Trump job approval among Democrats: 7% approve, 90% disapprove

Trump job approval among Republicans: 80% approve, 16% disapprove

Trump job approval among independents: 34% approve, 59% disapprove

Generic House: 42% Democratic candidate, 36% Republican candidate

Obamacare favorability: 48% favor, 41% oppose

‘OUTLIERS’ - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:

-A wave of surveys conducted after the Las Vegas shooting examine the nation’s attitudes toward guns. [Quinnipiac, NPR, Ipsos, Gallup]

-Americans are growing increasingly likely to view sexual harassment as a serious problem. [PBS, WashPost]

-Democracy is really quite popular. [Pew Global]

-A plurality of Americans think President Trump is unlikely to achieve his campaign promises. [HuffPost]

-CBS takes a look at perceptions of the relationship between Trump and the congressional GOP. [CBS]

-Jim Norman analyzes the strength of Americans’ feelings about Trump. [Gallup]

-Joshua Kalla and David Broockman look at the voter persuasion tactics that actually work. [WashPost]

-The percentage of New Hampshire residents who rate drugs as the state’s most important problem has skyrocketed. [UNH]

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