(The Center Square) – Although Virginia has shifted more blue in recent years, statewide polling suggests a very narrow race in the upcoming gubernatorial election between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin.
McAuliffe, a former governor, and Youngkin, a businessman and political newcomer, are within three points of each other, according to a compilation of polls from the polling analysis website FiveThirtyEight. As of its most recent update on Sept. 30, 47.3% of likely voters say they will support McAuliffe and 44.4% intend to support Youngkin.
In the past month and a half, polling has remained mostly steady with McAuliffe holding a narrow lead on Youngkin. Although a lead of less than 3% is within the margin of error in most polls, a large majority of the polls shows McAuliffe with a lead and only a handful give Youngkin a lead or found the support to be even.
Polling has also shown a loss in Democratic enthusiasm with former President Donald Trump out of office and an increase in Republican enthusiasm with President Joe Biden in office.
Election predictors had expected McAuliffe to have a comfortable win earlier in the race, but those predictions have shifted in recent weeks. In late September, the Cook Political Report changed its prediction from leaning Democrat to being a tossup and Inside Elections changed its prediction from being a likely Democrat win to only leaning Democrat. The Sabato Crystal Ball predictions also put the race as leaning Democrat.
Historically, Virginia gubernatorial races have favored whichever party is not in the White House during the election. Since 1977, there has only been one race in which the sitting president’s party won the Virginia governorship, and that was McAuliffe in 2013 when former President Barack Obama was in office. However, McAuliffe only narrowly edged out his opponent Ken Cuccinelli by 2.6 percentage points and was able to win without a majority support of the voters and might have been helped by Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis winning 6.5% of the vote. In this year’s election a third party ticket could have the opposite effect. The only third party candidate on the ballot is Princess Blanding, who is running to the left of McAuliffe for the Liberation Party.
Biden’s approval rating has also been declining in recent months. The president’s approval rating dropped to about 50% at the end of September when it was at nearly 60% in mid-July. His approval has gone down with white voters, black voters, Republicans, independents and Democrats.
Both candidates have tried to position themselves as being relatively moderate and safe choices, but both have tried to paint the other as extreme. McAuliffe has campaigned on his record as the former governor, and has called himself a pro-business Democrat who was able to work in a bipartisan way with a Republican legislature while Youngkin has campaigned on his record as a businessman, and has argued he knows how to get things done and secure better deals. Alternatively, McAuliffe has tried to paint Youngkin as a Trump-style candidate and Youngkin has tried to paint McAuliffe as a left-wing extremist.
McAuliffe has run on heavy financial investments into the economy, raising the minimum wage and requiring businesses to provide paid sick and medical leave. Youngkin has vowed not to raise taxes and has said he would prevent regulations that could harm the economy. The two have also differed on environmental policy: McAuliffe has said he would speed up the process of fully eliminating coal and natural gas as energy sources, while Youngkin has said he would invest in green energy, but maintain a diversified energy sector to ensure the state has reliable energy, rather than California-style blackouts.
The two have also differed on vaccination mandates with McAuliffe favoring them in certain cases and Youngkin instead supporting better access and communication, rather than mandates.
The election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 2, but early voting has already begun.