Virginia Primaries - February 2021 - The Wason Center - Christopher Newport University

February 19, 2021

Virginia Primaries - February 2021

"Most voters undecided in Virginia nominating contests; McAuliffe, Herring have head starts among Democrats; Chase leads Cox, Snyder for Republican governor bid "

Summary of Key Findings

  1. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe opens Democrats’ primary race for governor with a quarter of the vote (26%), but half of Democratic voters are undecided (49%).
  2. State Sen. Amanda Chase leads Republican field for governor with 17%, with former Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox at 10% and tech entrepreneur Pete Snyder at 6%; but 55% of Republican voters say they are undecided.
  3. No candidate for lieutenant governor has made much of an impression on voters in the crowded Democratic field, with most voters undecided (78%).
  4. Virginia Beach Del. Glenn Davis (8%) leads the field for the Republican lieutenant governor nomination, but most voters are undecided (71%).
  5. Attorney General Mark Herring (42%) holds a commanding lead for Democrats’ nomination to a third term, but half of Democratic voters are undecided (50%).
  6. Virginia Beach lawyer Chuck Smith (10%) leads the race for the Republican attorney general nomination, but two-thirds of voters are undecided (68%).
  7. With all 100 House of Delegates seats up in November, Democrats lead Republicans in a generic ballot, 49% to 37%.
  8. Deep partisan division defines voters, with 83% of Democrats approving Gov. Ralph Northam’s job performance, while 79% of Republicans disapprove.


Gubernatorial Races: In the Democratic primary contest for governor, former governor Terry McAuliffe leads among Democratic voters with 26%, followed by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (12%), former Prince William Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy and Richmond Sen. Jennifer McClellan at 4% each and Manassas Del. Lee Carter (1%). In terms of race, gender, and ideology, Virginia Democrats will be choosing from the most diverse field of gubernatorial candidates ever seen in the Commonwealth. Four months from the June 8 primary, many of these candidates are largely unknown to voters, nearly half of whom say they are undecided (49%). “New Democratic faces and priorities have emerged since Terry McAuliffe was governor,” said Wason Center Academic Director Dr. Quentin Kidd. “He opens with a head start, but he’s a long way from closing the deal.”

In the Republican contest for governor, tentatively to be decided in a convention in May, Chesterfield Sen. Amanda Chase leads a crowded field with 17%, followed by former Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox (10%) and entrepreneur Pete Snyder (6%). A majority of Republicans (55%) are undecided in this very unsettled race. Chase has sued the party to require a primary, rather than a convention, and other candidates are also competing. “The underlying friction between Chase’s fervent Trumpism and Cox’s Reagan Republican credentials could crack the party and open the door for Snyder or another contender,” said Wason Center Research Director Dr. Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo.

Among all voters, McAuliffe, the best-known candidate in the field, has a favorable/unfavorable rating of 25% to 21%, while 52% indicated no opinion. Fairfax follows with a favorable/unfavorable rating of 17% to 20%. Of the Republicans seeking their party’s nominations, Chase has the highest favorability rating at 9%, though her unfavorable rating is higher at 14%.

Lieutenant Governor: In the Democratic race for lieutenant governor, candidates barely break the surface among voters. The vast majority of Democrats are undecided (78%), while each candidate received just 1-2% support. Most Republicans (71%) are also undecided among their lieutenant governor contenders, though Virginia Beach Del. Glenn Davis leads this survey at 8%, followed by former Fairfax Del. Tim Hugo at 4%.

Attorney General: In the Democrats’ nominating contest for attorney general, incumbent Mark Herring (42%) has a solid lead over Norfolk Del. Jerrauld “Jay” Jones (3%). Seeking a third term, Herring’s support is the strongest of any candidate in this survey, but 50% of Democratic voters remain undecided. For the Republican nomination, Norfolk lawyer Chuck Smith leads with 10%, followed by Chesterfield Supervisor Leslie Haley (5%) and Virginia Beach Del. Jason Miyares (3%).

House of Delegates: With all 100 House of Delegates seats up in November, Democrats lead Republicans in a generic ballot, 49% to 37%, with 13% undecided.

State of the Commonwealth: More Virginia voters say the state is headed in the right direction (47%) than the wrong direction (41%), with a clear partisan division. Governor Ralph Northam’s 54% approval rating also falls along partisan lines, with 83% of Democrats approving of his job performance and 79% of Republicans disapproving.

How the survey was conducted:

The results of this poll are based on 1,005 interviews of registered Virginia voters, including 419 on landline and 586 on cell phone, conducted January 31- February 14, 2021. Percentages may not equal 100 due to rounding. The margin of error for the whole survey is +/-3.4% at the 95% level of confidence. This means that if 50% of respondents indicate a topline view on an issue, we can be 95% confident that the population’s view on that issue is somewhere between 46.5% and 53.4%. The margin of error for subgroups may be higher. All error margins have been adjusted to account for the survey’s design effect, which is 1.2 in this survey. The design effect is a factor representing the survey’s deviation from a simple random sample and takes into account decreases in precision due to sample design and weighting procedures. Sub-samples have a higher margin of error. In addition to sampling error, the other potential sources of error include non-response, question wording, and interviewer error. The response rate (AAPOR RRI Standard Definition) for the survey was .09%. Five callbacks were employed in the fielding process. Live calling was conducted by trained interviewers at the Wason Center for Civic Leadership Survey Research Lab at Christopher Newport University. The data reported here are weighted using an iterative weighting process on region, age, race, sex, and education to reflect as closely as possible the population of Virginia’s electorate.

For further information contact:

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

Dr. Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo, Research Lab Director
Office: (757) 594-9140

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