McAuliffe leads the race for Youngkin governors; Republicans lead enthusiasm

Former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe maintains a 7 percentage point lead over Republican Glenn Youngkin (48% -41%) with 9% undecided in the Virginia gubernatorial race, according to The Roanoke College Poll.

Democrats also lead the ticket races down, with Del. Hala Ayala (R) in front of the former Del. Winsome Sears (R) 45% -40% for Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General Mark Herring (D) leading Del. Jason Miyares (R) 47% -37% in the race for Attorney General. The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research surveyed 603 probable voters in Virginia between September 12 and 26 and has a margin of error of +4.0%.

Republicans have the advantage of being extremely enthusiastic about voting (43% to 35% for Democrats), while around 9 in 10 supporters say they are almost certain to vote (91% of Republicans vs. 88% Democrats). Likely voters view the economy (21%) and COVID (19%) as the most important election issues ahead of race relations (6%) and healthcare (6%).

McAuliffe’s favorable rating is 50% while his negative rating is 37% with 13% unsure or not knowing enough to have an opinion. Youngkin is 40% / 41% favorable / unfavorable (both numbers have risen considerably in a month), while 20% of likely voters still have no opinion on him.

Biden, Northam, the Nation and the Commonwealth

Half of the likely voters (50%) approve of the way President Joe Biden handles his job and 45% disapprove of it. Biden’s approval rating has remained relatively stable, but disapproval has increased in every Roanoke College poll since taking office.

by Biden the favorable / unfavorable score is 51% / 46%. Just over a third (35%) of respondents think the country is heading in the right direction, while 58% think the country is on the wrong track.

While a majority of likely voters (59%) believe the decision to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan was correct, two-thirds (66%) believe the United States failed to meet its targets. Almost three-quarters (73%) of those polled rate the Biden administration‘s work in Afghanistan as fair or poor, and 90% see Taliban control over Afghanistan as a threat to US security.

Job approval for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam stands at 55%, while 40% disapprove of his performance. Just over half (52%) of those polled think Virginia is on the right track, but 43% think the state is on the wrong track. Northam is viewed favorably by 54% of likely voters (a Roanoke College Poll record for him) and is viewed unfavorably by 39% (also a record).

When it comes to the Commonwealth budget surplus, voters prefer to see an increase in education funding (42%) or tax cuts (29%), while fewer want to see more money allocated to social programs (20 %) or salary increases for government employees (6%). The abortion policy was also highlighted in the campaign. A majority of likely voters (62%) think abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while about a third (32%) think it should be illegal in most or all cases .


Almost three-quarters (74%) of Virginia residents know someone who has contracted COVID. Of those who know someone, 79 respondents (18%) had the virus themselves. More than half (51%) have a family member who was sick and 51% have a friend or relative who has had the virus. Two-thirds (66%) of respondents are very or somewhat worried that they or someone in their household will contract the virus.

A majority (61%) think they would be mildly sick if they contracted the virus (up significantly since we asked for it in November 2020), while 8% think they would be very sick, and 7% think they would be extremely ill and possibly die (both as of November 2020). Only 10% think they would have no symptoms. Of those who had the virus, 43% said they were mildly sick, 38% were very sick, 7% were extremely sick, and 12% were asymptomatic.

A plurality of respondents (42%) believe the media coverage made the virus appear worse than it actually is, while almost as many (38%) believe the coverage was accurate. A large majority of respondents (82%) say they have been vaccinated, compared to 62% in May. 3% say they plan to be vaccinated and 11% say they will not be vaccinated.

A plurality of voters (47%) believe the state government’s response has been appropriate in slowing the spread of the virus. For the first time, more respondents think the federal government’s response is appropriate (35%) rather than not going far enough (34%), but more than a quarter (26%) think the federal response is gone too far.


“The common theme of US elections over the past decade has been a ‘grassroots election that will be decided by turnout.’ Virginia 2021 is no different, ”said Harry Wilson, senior policy analyst at Roanoke College Poll. “McAuliffe has maintained his lead, but some of the underlying players favor Youngkin and the Republicans. They have an enthusiasm advantage and, perhaps, a small probability of voting advantage. Supporters on both sides are firmly entrenched in supporting their candidate, Republicans perhaps more strongly than in 2017. ”

While polls taken after an election consistently show more support for winners than they received in the actual election, this poll shows a 17 point margin for Northam in 2017, when he won the election of 9 points. Supporters vote in large numbers for their candidate, usually 90% or more. This happened in 2017, and the results of this survey reflect it.

Independents in this poll have “shifted” to Republicans, but they say they voted for Northam in 2017 in greater numbers than the 2017 exit poll suggests. We continue to use this exit poll as a benchmark because it is the only / best reference available. It is easy to say that the electorate will not be the same four years later; it is much more difficult to define precisely how this will differ. We have chosen not to substitute our judgment for leaving the ballot box.


Interviews for the Roanoke College poll were conducted by the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Va., Between September 12 and 26, 2021. A total of 603 voters likely to vote in the office election of Governor in Virginia were interviewed by random phone calls to 412 respondents and 184 responses taken from an exclusive online panel of Virginians.

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