Upset brewing: Another poll of Virginia shows race between Youngkin and McAuliffe tied

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

The smart money is on a Youngkin victory at this point, right? Today’s Monmouth survey is the second straight poll to have the race even (Trafalgar was the other), and in the span of three weeks McAuliffe’s lead in the RCP average has been cut by more than half. Today it’s down to 1.8 points. He led by five points on October 1.

Virginians are making up their minds in the final weeks before the vote. Youngkin’s Trump-friendly-but-not-too-friendly strategy appears to be convincing a meaningful number to roll the dice on a Republican for the first time in 12 years.

You don’t even need to know what the polls say to know that he’s closing on McAuliffe, in fact. The Democrat’s behavior lately reeks from the stench of flop sweat. As a Twitter pal said this morning, for weeks McAuliffe has projected a sense of irritation that he’s being made to work for a victory in a state Biden carried by 10 points. Recently, however, he seems more desperate than annoyed. Whatever he’s seeing in his own numbers clearly has him believing that he might lose.

He might. From Monmouth:

Youngkin (46%) and McAuliffe (46%) hold identical levels of support among all registered voters. This marks a shift from prior Monmouth polls where the Democrat held a 5-point lead (48% to 43% in September and 47% to 42% in August). A range of probabilistic likely electorate models* shows a potential outcome – if the election was held today – of anywhere from a 3-point lead for McAuliffe (48% to 45%) to a 3-point lead for Youngkin (48% to 45%). This is the first time the Republican has held a lead in Monmouth polls this cycle.

The biggest swing in support from Monmouth’s last poll comes from independent voters, registering a 48% to 39% lead for Youngkin now compared with a 37% to 46% deficit in September. Youngkin has also cut into McAuliffe’s advantage with women voters. The Democrat currently has a narrow edge among women (47% to 43%), down from a sizable 14-point lead last month (52% to 38%).

Biden’s approval in this poll stands at 43/52. In a state he won by 10 points.

How is Youngkin doing it? Monmouth finds that he’s gaining support in red rural areas and holding down McAuliffe’s lead in blue urban areas. A few days ago I wrote that the two have made a bet on how Youngkin’s highwire act with respect to Trump and Trumpism will play with voters. McAuliffe is betting that it’ll alienate both sides of the aisle, proving not Trumpy enough for MAGA fans but too Trumpy for business-class voters. (Especially the latter, which is why Democrats keep accusing Youngkin of being a Trump in Romney-ish clothing.) Youngkin is gambling that the opposite is true, that MAGA voters will find him just Trumpy enough to vote for while the business-class centrists will conclude that he’s sufficiently distinct to take a chance on. Youngkin’s clearly winning that bet right now.

The issues also favor him. Monmouth knows why the Republican has been attacking McAuliffe relentlessly lately for his callous attitude towards parental rights over their children’s education:

The Monmouth poll finds that a recent shift in voter issue priorities has helped Youngkin. The top issues chosen as the most important first or second factor in Virginians’ vote for governor are jobs and the economy (45%, up from 39% in September) and education and schools (41%, up from 31%). Just 23% name the Covid pandemic as one of their top two issues, which is a drop from 32% last month.

Youngkin has drawn even with McAuliffe on being trusted more to handle education and schools (39% to 38%). He trailed the Democrat on this issue in September (33% to 37%) and August (31% to 36%).

The more important school policy becomes to Virginia swing voters, the more likely a Youngkin victory becomes.

The Democrats control their own destiny in Virginia inasmuch as it’s a blue state with a majority-Dem electorate. If McAuliffe can turn out his voters, he wins. But there’s a lot turning those voters off at the moment — disappointment in Biden, rising inflation, infrastructure paralysis, and African-American voters discouraged that Dems haven’t kept their promises on voting rights and police reform. A high-turnout election in which Dems are energized is a McAuliffe victory, as Monmouth’s poll shows. A low-turnout election in which only Republicans are energized is where the upset magic happens. Guess how things are looking in VA right now:

A 13-point GOP lead in enthusiasm in August is a 23-point GOP lead now. Democrats are *less* enthusiastic than they were a month ago. Hoo boy.

This isn’t the only poll out today showing very different outcomes in Virginia depending upon how turnout shakes out:

That makes three ties in three straight polls, with Youngkin clearly positioned to win as Democrats grow more demoralized. I think he’s going to do it and on November 3 we’ll be witness to the mother of all “Dems in disarray” news cycles. Or at least the biggest one since November 9, 2016.

I’ll leave you with this. It’s a fair point, but (a) you’re usually losing when you’re clinging to hope that the polls are skewed and (b) Dems were the out-party in 2017. They wanted to flex their muscles at the polls in Virginia to avenge Trump’s presidential win. This year it’s Republicans’ turn.