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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

September 25, 2017

Northam Leads Gillespie 47%-41%

Northam leads Gillespie, 47%-41%, in governor's race; regional and demographic trends favor Democrats.

Summary of Key Findings

  1. Democrats Northam, Fairfax, and Herring lead similarly statewide on the strength of support in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, and among women and younger voters.
  2. In a generic House of Delegates ballot, voters favor a Democrat, 47% to 40%.
  3. Partisan regional divides emerge across the ballot, with Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads favoring Democrats and the Richmond-central Virginia and rural South and Western Virginia favoring Republicans.
  4. Republican voters say cutting taxes is a high priority, while Democratic voters say expanding Medicaid and addressing tidal flooding and sea level rise are high priorities.
  5. Improving the quality of K-12 education clearly tops the list of issues all voters want the next governor to focus on.

For further information contact:

Dr. Quentin Kidd, Director
qkidd@cnu.edu
Office: (757) 594-8499
Mobile: (757) 775-6932

Dr. Rachel Bitecofer, Assistant Director
rachel.bitecofer@cnu.edu
Office: (757) 594-8997
Mobile: (541) 729-9824

Analysis

Six weeks before Virginians choose their next governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and all 100 members of the House of Delegates, Democratic candidates find themselves in a favorable position, according to a Wason Center survey of 776 likely voters. At the top of the ticket, current Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam leads former Republican National Committee Chair Ed Gillespie 47% to 41%, with Libertarian Cliff Hyra taking 4% of the vote and another 8% still undecided.

Democrat Justin Fairfax, a former federal prosecutor, leads Republican state Senator Jill Vogel in the Lieutenant Governor’s race 46% to 42%, while current Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring leads former federal prosecutor and White House aide John Adams 47% to 42%. In a generic House of Delegates test ballot, the Democratic candidate leads the Republican candidate 47% to 40%.

The survey’s margin of error is +/- 3.7% at the 95% level of confidence. Likely voters are registered voters with a history of voting in recent statewide elections, who also say they definitely or probably will vote in the November 7 election.

Northam’s lead over Gillespie is built on strong support from women (+18), voters under 45 (+18), voters in Northern Virginia (+11) and Hampton Roads (+20), and ideological moderates (+26). Gillespie leads regionally in Richmond-Central Virginia (+8) and rural South and Southwest Virginia (+5), and among men (+7). Each has the overwhelming support of his party’s base, and they split independents (38% to 38%).

“Northam is doing well where he needs to do well,” said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center. “A Democratic plus-11 advantage in Northern Virginia and plus-20 in Hampton Roads are hard for a Republican to overcome in the rest of the state.”

As with Northam vs. Gillespie, the structure of the Democratic electorate compared to the Republican electorate gives Fairfax and Herring similar advantages, with both Democrats leading on the strength of support from Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, among women, and among younger voters and African-American voters.

“The Democratic field clearly has an advantage now,” said Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center. “The question is whether they can turn out their voters on Election Day, something the party traditionally struggles with in off-year elections.”

Partisan divides appear when voters are asked to rank issues by priority. Expanding Medicaid and addressing tidal flooding and sea level rise rank far higher among Northam voters, while cutting taxes to stimulate the economy ranks far higher among Gillespie voters. Voters in both camps rank improving K-12 education, making the economy less dependent on federal spending, and transportation as high priorities.

Improving K-12 education tops the list of policy issues both Democratic and Republican voters want their next governor to focus on, followed by cutting taxes and expanding Medicaid.

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