West Long Branch, NJ - The campaign for governor of Virginia remains up for grabs, with Democrat Ralph Northam up a negligible two points against Republican Ed Gillespie. The current results confirm a trend noted in last month's Monmouth University Poll : the race has become an appeal to each party's base. The two candidates have solidified support in their regional strongholds leaving the Commonwealth's central region as the kingmaker. At the same time, voters have soured on the tone the campaign has taken in the last six weeks.
Currently, 47% of likely voters support Northam, Virginia's sitting lieutenant governor, and 45% support Gillespie, the former national GOP party leader. Libertarian Cliff Hyra gets 3% of the vote and 5% are undecided. The race was virtually deadlocked three weeks ago at 48% for Gillespie and 47% for Northam, whereas the Democrat had a 49% to 44% edge over the Republican six weeks ago. The race was tied at 44% each in July.
"Despite some wide variations in other public polls on this race, Monmouth has consistently shown this to be a tight contest. The nominal lead has gone back and forth between the two candidates. It could be anybody's game tomorrow," said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Northam's advantage in Northern Virginia stands at 59% to 30%. Gillespie, on the other hand, leads by a similarly wide 64% to 30% margin in the western part of the Commonwealth. Northam has regained the edge in his home region of eastern Virginia at 54% to 39%. Northam led in this region in July and September but Gillespie temporarily closed the gap last month.
"Gillespie is performing very strongly in the western region and may even eclipse Donald Trump's 2016 majority there. Northam is doing about the same in Northern Virginia as Terry McAuliffe's 2013 showing and is running slightly better than the incumbent did along the Chesapeake Bay. It's all going to come down to the central part of the state. The counties surrounding the greater Richmond area are likely to determine the next governor," said Murray.
Central Virginia has been the most competitive region in Monmouth's polling of this race. Northam currently has a 48% to 45% lead over Gillespie in this area. Monmouth's prior polls showed both candidates with small single digit advantages in this region at different points in the campaign. Gov. McAuliffe won this region by 4 points on his way to a 2.5 percentage point victory four years ago.
"Early in this race, it appeared that both candidates were shooting for crossover appeal, with Northam doing better than expected in Republican areas and Gillespie performing respectively well in Democratic-leaning counties. The electorate has since reverted to partisan norms as the campaign has taken a decidedly nasty turn," said Murray.
As the 2017 campaign comes to a close, 63% of Virginia voters characterize the governor's race as being generally negative. Just 25% say it has been positive. This is a reversal from voter sentiment in late September, when a 56% majority said the race had been positive and only 30% said it was negative. Among those who view the race as negative, a slightly larger number put the blame more on Gillespie (34%) than on Northam (27%), but 35% say both candidates are equally to blame for the negative tone.
Voters also have a slightly, but not significantly, higher opinion of the Democratic nominee. While Northam earns a 43% favorable and 31% unfavorable rating, views of Gillespie stand at 40% favorable and 34% unfavorable. Three weeks ago, Northam had a 40% favorable and 27% unfavorable rating while Gillespie had a 41% favorable and 37% unfavorable rating.
There has not been a major shift in either candidate's advantage on key issues. Gillespie is preferred over Northam on handling jobs and the economy by a 40% to 33% margin and on handling crime by a 42% to 30% margin. Northam is preferred over Gillespie on handling health care by a 45% to 33% margin and on handling education by a 44% to 30% margin. These results are basically in line with Monmouth's mid-October poll.
The poll also finds that Donald Trump's impact on the race has remained stable. Just over 4-in-10 Virginia voters say he is either a major factor (27%) or minor factor (16%) in making their choice for governor while 56% say the president is not a factor at all. Overall, 41% of likely voters approve of the job Trump is doing as president and 53% disapprove. These results are basically unchanged from polls taken since July.
"Whatever impact Trump has on voters' decision-making process was already baked in from the start of this campaign. The bigger question now is whether he will be a factor in energizing turnout for either candidate," said Murray.
The Monmouth University Poll results suggest that the 2017 campaign may have taken a toll on voters' views of their Commonwealth and its current governor. While 43% say things in Virginia are going in the right direction, 46% say they have gotten off on the wrong track. Public opinion was rosier in July when 51% said Virginia was headed in the right direction and only 38% said it was on the wrong track.
Terry McAuliffe earns a 45% approve and 40% disapprove rating for the job he has done as governor. Last month, McAuliffe held a somewhat better 49% approve and 37% disapprove rating. It was even more positive in late September at 55% approve and 36% disapprove.
Monmouth's polling estimates that about 44% of registered voters will participate in this year's election. This would put turnout in line with 2013 (43%) and higher than 2009 (40%), but it would be lower than turnout in the three prior gubernatorial contests which ranged from 45% in 2005 to 49.5% in 1997.
The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from November 2 to 5, 2017 with 713 Virginia residents likely to vote in the 2017 gubernatorial election. The results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.
QUESTIONS AND RESULTS
(* Some columns may not add to 100% due to rounding.)
1./2. If the election for governor was today, would you vote for Ed Gillespie the Republican, Ralph Northam the Democrat, or Cliff Hyra the Libertarian? [ IF UNDECIDED: If you had to vote for one of the following at this moment, do you lean more toward Ed Gillespie or Ralph Northam?] [ NAMES WERE ROTATED ]
45% Ed Gillespie
47% Ralph Northam
3% Cliff Hyra
<1% (VOL) Other/write-in
5% (VOL) Undecided
[ QUESTIONS 3 & 4 WERE ROTATED ]
3. Is your general impression of Ed Gillespie favorable or unfavorable, or do you have no opinion of him?
26% No opinion
4. Is your general impression of Ralph Northam favorable or unfavorable, or do you have no opinion of him?
26% No opinion
[ QUESTIONS 5 & 6 WERE ROTATED ]
5. Do you approve or disapprove of the job Donald Trump is doing as president?
5% (VOL) Don't know
6. Do you approve or disapprove of the job Terry McAuliffe is doing as governor?
15% (VOL) Don't know
7. Would you say things in Virginia are going in the right direction, or have they gotten off on the wrong track?
43% Right direction
46% Wrong track
5% (VOL) Depends
5% (VOL) Don't know
8. I'm going to read you a list of issues that the next governor may have to handle. Regardless of who you will vote for, please tell me who is likely to do a good job on each issue - only Ed Gillespie, only Ralph Northam, both of them, or neither of them. [ITEMS WERE ROTATED ]
Jobs and the economy
40% Only Gillespie
33% Only Northam
5% (VOL) Don't know
30% Only Gillespie
44% Only Northam
6% (VOL) Don't know
33% Only Gillespie
45% Only Northam
5% (VOL) Don't know
42% Only Gillespie
30% Only Northam
7% (VOL) Don't know
9. Is Donald Trump a major factor, minor factor, or not a factor in deciding how you will vote for governor?
27% Major factor
16% Minor factor
56% Not a factor
1% (VOL) Don't know
10. Would you characterize the governor's race as being generally positive or negative?
6% (VOL) Both positive and negative
6% (VOL) Don't know
[ The following question was asked of those who said "NEGATIVE" or "BOTH" in Q10;n=492; moe = +/- 4.4% ]
11. Who has been more negative - Gillespie or Northam, or both equally?
35% Both equally
3% (VOL) Don't know
The Monmouth University Poll was sponsored and conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from November 2 to 5, 2017 with a statewide random sample of 713 likely Virginia voters drawn from a list of registered voters who voted in at least two of the last four general elections or have registered to vote since January 2016, and indicate they are likely to vote in the upcoming election. This includes 392 contacted by a live interviewer on a landline telephone and 321 contacted by a live interviewer on a cell phone. Monmouth is responsible for all aspects of the survey design, data weighting and analysis. Final sample is weighted for region, party primary voting history, age, gender, and race based on state voter registration list and U.S. Census information. Data collection support provided by Braun Research (field) and Aristotle (voter sample). For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points (unadjusted for sample design). Sampling error can be larger for sub-groups (see table below). In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.
Click on pdf file link below for full methodology and results by key demographic groups.
Download this Poll Report with all tables