McAuliffe vs Youngkin poll: Should Democrats cringe?

Last week, the first post-primary season poll on the Virginia governor’s race was released with little fanfare. It showed Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin neck and neck in their race for the state’s top office.

The poll, which was conducted by the conservative firm WPA Intelligence, had McAuliffe, a popular former governor, leading Youngkin by just 2 points, 48 percent to 46 percent, well within the poll’s 4-point margin of error. Five percent of voters said they were undecided.

“Any pundit not taking the Governor’s race in Virginia seriously could be open to a rude awakening come this fall,” the polling memo, obtained by The Hill, read.

Because the 2021 Virginia governor’s race is considered a) a bellwether for where the country sits politically and b) an early indicator of what’ll lie in store for the midterm elections the following year, it will be watched closely by experts, pundits and candidates nationwide.

In the 2017 Virginia Gubernatorial Election, then Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam defeated Republican foe Ed Gillespie – a well-known, well-liked moderate who served as the 61st Chair of the Republican National Committee from 2003 to 2005, by 8.9 percentage points.

In that race, experts correctly predicted then-candidate Ralph Northam’s dominance in the Northern Virginia DC suburbs was an ominous sign for Republicans and a fairly accurate prognosticator of what happened in the 2018 midterms as Democrats regained the U.S. House of Representatives. Moreover, those same stats were reflective of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Race as then-President Donald Trump would underperform in suburbia nationwide, losing the election as a result.

Should Democrats be concerned Youngkin is polling so well with less than five months until Election Day?

Answer: Not yet. It’s just one survey.

Also, the McAuliffe vs Youngkin poll was conducted by a pollster with a presumed right-leaning bias and is not among the elite-level polling companies. We need more data from more accomplished pollsters such as Fox News, Emerson, Quinnipiac, New York Times, and Monmouth to make a better assessment.

Also, state polling tends to be less accurate than national polls. Four years ago, the Real Clear Politics aggregate of top pollsters had Northam winning by 3.9 percentage points, a full five percentage points lower than his 8.9 percent margin of victory. So, while we may have a good indication of who’ll win weeks before Election Night, we won’t be able to ascertain the margin of victory, which will be critically important, until the official numbers are in and have been counted.

Yes, the margin of victory will hold relevance.

Even a McAuliffe win could signal trouble for Democrats in 2022 should he struggle.

A competitive race where the winner, regardless of his party affiliation, is determined by no more than five percentage points would serve as a GOP victory of sorts because it would show softening in support for Democrats, whether within its progressive base or among independents or suburban moderates.

Given Virginia’s heavy Democratic lean since 2004 and McAuliffe’s name recognition advantage, Democrats should hope he wins comfortably.

From now until Election Day, there will be a flurry of polls and Youngkin will win some of them. However, McAuliffe should win at least 3 of every 4 as Northam did against his Republican opponent four years ago.

If the candidates trade leads throughout, Democrats should be very concerned; not only about the Virginia Governor’s race but their likelihood of maintaining their advantages in the US House and Senate in 2022.

What are your thoughts on the McAuliffe vs Youngkin poll?