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October 24, 2013

ODU Governor’s Race Poll: Republican Cuccinelli Out of Step with Virginia Electorate on Major Issues

Photo of Jesse RichmanJesse Richman
By Jon Cawley

A statewide poll released Wednesday, Oct. 23, by the Old Dominion University Social Science Research Center shows Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe with a significant lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the race for Virginia governor.

Further, poll analysis implies the essential problem for the Cuccinelli campaign is that the candidate is at odds with the electorate on many state political issues, including transportation, climate change, gun control, abortion, same-sex marriage, restrictions on gifts to politicians and uranium mining.

ODU researchers randomly queried 670 likely voters by cell phone and landline and determined that support for McAuliffe currently stands at 44.1 percent. That gives him a 7.2 percentage point lead over Cuccinelli, who was supported by 36.9 percent of respondents. Libertarian Rob Sarvis was supported by 6.9 percent of likely voters, a substantial number given Virginia's tendency to shun third party candidates, the poll concluded.

The results put McAuliffe's lead significantly outside the poll's 5 percent margin of error.

But the most important aspect of the poll is its ability to identify and examine the issue-views of the electorate and how those views match with the candidates' positions. The poll asked Virginia's likely voters to identify their positions on 20 salient state political issues.

"This poll is unique in its focus on an extensive battery of issue questions," said Jesse Richman, ODU associate professor of political science and lead poll investigator. "I hope that this can in some modest way steer conversation away from horse race coverage of campaigns and negative attack advertising toward a focus on the views and positions of the candidates."

By comparing the views of the candidates and their supporters with the views of the broader electorate, the ODU study allows for analysis of the degree to which each candidate is taking positions consistent with the views of the electorate. It also provides important insight concerning the extent to which each candidate is aligned with the electorate on major issues.

Of the 20 issues examined, McAuliffe's position was consistent with the plurality of responses on 16, while Cuccinelli's position was consistent with the electorate on only five topics. There were only two issues, charter schools and voter photo-identification, on which Cuccinelli and McAuliffe disagreed where a majority of the public supported Cuccinelli's position.

Poll results show Sarvis has positions on seven issues that are more consistent with the plurality of survey respondents than Cuccinelli. That prompted Richman to note: "When a major party candidate is more out of step with the public than the Libertarian candidate, winning an election is likely to be difficult."

Richman went on to state that those findings give the poll results important state and national importance because they suggest the heart of Cuccinelli's platform is inconsistent with that of the electorate he would like to represent.

"To the extent the Republican Party in Virginia and elsewhere shares these challenges, the party seems likely to suffer diminished popular support," Richman said. "Winning elections will be difficult until or unless Republican Party candidates find ways to adapt their issue positions or introduce new issues."

To access the poll's full results, go to the Old Dominion University Social Science Research Center website and click on "2013 Gubernatorial Race Poll" under Resources.