WaPo poll: Virtual dead heat in McAuliffe-Youngkin race; UPDATE: 42-point swing on education?

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Is this a counter to yesterday’s big Fox News poll showing Glenn Youngkin catching fire in Virginia? Depends on how one views the source. A new Washington Post poll keeps the gubernatorial race within the margin of error overall, with Terry McAuliffe holding slight leads depending on how you slice the sample:

Virginia’s race for governor is a toss-up as Tuesday’s election draws near, with 49 percent of likely voters favoring Democrat Terry McAuliffe and 48 percent favoring Republican Glenn Youngkin, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.

The result is little changed from last month, when a Post-Schar School poll measured the race at 50 percent McAuliffe-47 percent Youngkin — although the Democrat’s six percentage-point edge among all registered voters in September has narrowed to three points in the new poll, at 47 percent for McAuliffe to 44 percent for Youngkin.

Bloomberg’s Emma Kinery sums up the RV/LV results:

That doesn’t show a lot of change in the topline from the previous WaPo polling. That’s a bit curious when one drills down into the demos, however. Youngkin gained ten points among likely independent voters, now leading 56/38 in that category:

Youngkin is fueled by an 18-point advantage among independent likely voters, up from an eight-point advantage last month — a significant swing in a group that could determine the election’s outcome. While Virginia does not register voters by party, 33 percent of voters in the poll identified themselves as independents. That compares with 34 percent who said they consider themselves Democrats and 27 percent who said they are Republicans.

The Post-Schar School poll, which was conducted Oct. 20-26, finds a larger share of voters saying education is the top issue in their vote compared with the September poll, with fewer citing the coronavirus as the biggest factor in their decision. The survey interviewed 918 likely voters reached by professional interviewers on cellphones and landlines, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

How did that shift not change the toplines? In part, it seems to be because this current survey includes more Democrats and quite a bit fewer independents. According to today’s report, the sample has a D/R/I breakdown of 34/27/33. The previous survey in early September that also had McAuliffe up three points had a D/R/I of 30/24/39.

It’s safe to say that this race is close, but that shift in independents suggests more momentum for Youngkin than the toplines reveal, certainly. Even if this sample reflects the actual turnout model more accurately than September’s, the takeaway here is that the middle is moving to Youngkin.

That’s not the only reason for optimism among Republicans. Bloomberg took a look at the early voting metrics and concluded that McAuliffe and Democrats have some reason to worry:

Signs point to Democrats holding a lead in early votes cast. McAuliffe is a former Virginia governor and former chair of the Democratic National Committee. Youngkin, a former co-chief executive officer of the Carlyle Group Inc., is also encouraging supporters to vote early, even though Republicans are more apt to wait until Election Day to vote.

Youngkin doesn’t expect to match McAuliffe’s early voter turnout numbers, but if he can get enough of those votes to stay within striking distance, then Election Day turnout may be enough for him to win. His campaign claims he already has. …

Using commercial and government sources, the Democratic data firm TargetSmart estimated that 55% of the early vote has been cast by Democrats, 30% by Republicans and 15% by independents.

The Youngkin campaign concedes that McAuliffe is doing better on early voting, but they add he’s not doing well enough. Senior data adviser Kristin Davison said that only around 400 people voted after one recent McAuliffe event, far fewer than she had expected.

She said the Youngkin campaign projected it would have to win 35% of the early vote to remain competitive with McAuliffe heading into Election Day, which she said the campaign has already exceeded, according to its own model of the electorate.

A D/R/I of 55/30/15 doesn’t sound promising for McAuliffe, especially with all of the later-breaking news in this race. Hiring Marc Elias alone signals that his own polling shows more movement than this WaPo topline does. Team McAuliffe appears worried enough about a loss to start plotting a “stolen election” messaging and legal strategy for Wednesday morning.

And the main reason for that is likely because of you know who:

Biden’s popularity in Virginia has sagged since 2020, when he won the state by 10 points, and his struggles to get Congress to go along with massive spending on infrastructure and other priorities is doing McAuliffe no favors. Virginia likely voters disapprove of Biden’s job performance by a 53 percent to 46 percent margin, and more than twice as many voters strongly disapprove as strongly approve, 44 percent versus 21 percent.

Benjy Sarlin warned that Democrats are headed for a very unpleasant shock with these numbers:

I don’t think Biden will claw his way back in three days. With Republicans fired up and Democrats despondent, this may end up being Youngkin’s race to win — but don’t get cocky.

Update: This should have McAuliffe hitting the panic button:

That’s a 42-point flip in the gap on what is now the #1 issue for voters in this race. If all that is shown in this poll, then how did it not affect the topline?