A Newsmax/Zogby poll released on Monday that shows Republican Ken Cuccinelli has tied former Democratic front runner Terry McAuliffe sent shock waves through the Virginia political establishment that had until now written off Cuccinelli’ chances of victory. The poll of likely Virginia voters conducted between September 27 and 29 shows that McAuliffe’s lead over Cuccinelli has been cut to one tenth of one percent, 32.5 percent to 32.4 percent. In essence, the two candidates are in a virtual dead heat.
One unusual aspect of the poll, taken six weeks before the election, is that neither major party candidate has the support of more than 40 percent of likely voters. This remarkable fact reflects that the race has been dominated by heavy spending on negative television advertisements. Though McAuliffe has outspent Cuccinelli by an estimated 2 to 1 margin, the $20 million poured into television appears to have done little to expand the base of either major candidate.
Of concern to both Cuccinelli and McAuliffe, however, is the 10.8 percent support given in the poll to “another candidate.” Libertarian Robert Sarvis is also competing for the job of governor, and at least one other recent poll has given him 11 percent of the vote. With the election just weeks away, 24.3 percent of voters are still undecided.
With Libertarian Robert Sarvis added as a named option for poll respondents, however, McAuliffe has a 4.8 percent lead over Cuccinelli, 32.2 percent to 27.4 percent. Sarvis receives support from 12.7 percent of respondents. McAuliffe loses only three tenths of 1 percent support when Sarvis is added, while Cuccinelli drops a full 5 percent.
Libertarian Sarvis hurts Cuccinelli the most among 18 to 29 year old voters. In a two man matchup, Cuccinelli beats McAuliffe soundly in this age group by 46.0 percent to 26.7 percent. But when Sarvis is added, Cuccinelli’s support plummets to 23.2 percent, while support for Sarvis reaches 21.6 percent. Surprisingly, adding Sarvis bumps McAuliffe to the lead in this age group, from 26.7 percent to 28.8 percent.
According to former Republican Congressman Tom Davis, “Clearly, Sarvis’ vote total comes more out of us than it does out of them . . .[I]t wouldn’t surprise me to find Democrats doing their utmost among independent and undecided voters to boost Sarvis’ vote total, as they did in the Senate races last year in Montana, Indiana, and Arizona.”
During the summer, polls showed McAuliffe leading Cuccinelli by as much as ten percentage points. Today’s results, however, indicate the outcome of this election, which could set the tone for the 2014 mid-term elections and the 2016 presidential elections, remains too close to call.