By Antonio Olivo,
Win Mcnamee Getty Images
The races for Virginia governor and lieutenant governor have further tightened less than a month before the November election, with Republicans gaining ground among independents while Democratic enthusiasm is waning, according to a poll released Friday.
The survey of likely voters by Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center for Civic Leadership shows that former governor Terry McAuliffe (D) leads Republican Glenn Youngkin 49 percent to 45 percent — falling within the poll’s margin of error of 4.2 percentage points — while 5 percent of the respondents were still undecided.
McAuliffe’s lead has dropped by five points since August, when another Wason Center poll showed that 50 percent of likely voters supported him compared with 41 percent for Youngkin.
In the lieutenant governor’s race, Del. Hala S. Ayala (D-Prince William) leads Republican former Norfolk delegate Winsome E. Sears 48 percent to 44 percent, with 8 percent of likely voters undecided, according to the poll. Ayala led by 10 points in August, according to the Wason Center.
Democrat Mark R. Herring leads Republican Del. Jason S. Miyares (Virginia Beach) in the attorney general’s race, 49 percent to 43 percent — a six-point drop for the Democratic incumbent’s lead since August, but one that is still outside of the poll’s margin of error.
Other recent polls, including a Washington Post-Schar School survey conducted last month, have shown a similar tightening of the statewide elections.
The difference for Republicans is among self-identified independent voters, particularly in the Richmond area, said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center.
Youngkin gained 11 points among those likely voters since August — going from 39 percent to 50 percent. McAuliffe’s support among independents has dropped, from 44 percent in August to 41 percent, the poll shows.
“What’s happened is Youngkin has actually gained ground,” Kidd said. “McAuliffe really hasn’t changed. It’s Youngkin who has changed.”
The lack of greater support for McAuliffe and his fellow Democrats lies in what appears to be waning enthusiasm among Democratic voters compared with recent elections, Kidd said.
Just 55 percent of Democrats surveyed said they were very enthusiastic about the November elections, compared with 61 percent for Republicans. Among independents, 51 percent said they were very enthusiastic.
The lower enthusiasm among Democrats — possibly related to sagging approval ratings for President Biden — has kept McAuliffe from getting support from more than 50 percent of all likely voters, Kidd said.
“In some ways, he’s hit a ceiling,” Kidd said. “He hit a ceiling back in late August and he’s having a hard time breaking that ceiling. That’s a really critical ceiling because, to win, breaking 50 percent is a big mark.”
McAuliffe has tried to whip up Democratic enthusiasm in recent weeks, linking Youngkin to former president Donald Trump and attacking the political newcomer over his opposition to mandates for coronavirus vaccinations in a state where most residents support the idea.
Another galvanizing issue is abortion, after the U.S. Supreme Court did not act to block a Texas law that bans the procedure in most cases after the sixth week of pregnancy, the Wason Center poll found. A federal judge this week halted the Texas law while a legal battle over its constitutionality makes its way through courts.
In the Wason Center poll, 61 percent of all likely voters surveyed said they support protecting a woman’s access to abortions, most of them Democrats. Fifty-five percent of all respondents said they would oppose a law similar to the one in Texas while slightly more than a third said they would support it.
Youngkin, who opposes abortion, has said he would not sign a law similar to the one in Texas but indicated he would support a “pain threshold” bill.
In the lieutenant governor’s race, Sears has said she would support banning most forms of abortion after six weeks, drawing attacks from Ayala.
Kidd said Democrats can feel most confident about Herring’s race with Miyares.
Though Herring’s lead is not large, he is comfortably ahead in the vote-rich Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads areas, the poll shows.
Meanwhile, the Republicans need to gain more ground between now and the Nov. 2 elections.
Since 2013, no Republican gubernatorial candidate has garnered more than 45 percent of the vote — about where Youngkin now stands — with Democrats winning those elections, according to the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project.
“They seem to have some momentum at their backs,” Kidd said of the Republican candidates. “They must feel good about that but, of course, you’re not going to feel really good until you’re leading.”