Yesterday, Quinnipiac University released their new Virginia poll (Aug. 14-19; 1,129 likely Virginia voters), which projects former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe to be leading Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) 48-42 percent on the ballot test. This poll actually shows an increase in support for both candidates over their two previous Old Dominion surveys. In July, the Q-Poll gave McAuliffe a 43-39 percent edge, and the May study returned an almost identical 43-38 percent result.
Though the spread between the current numbers is the largest of the campaign according to this pollster, the number of self-identified Republicans (23 percent) and Democrats (30 percent) are the lowest to date. Those describing themselves as Independents or unaffiliated topped 39 percent, the largest number in comparison to the previous surveys.
Curiously, though Cuccinelli has a two point (44-42 percent) preference among Independents, he’s still trailing. He scores a 90-6 percent tally from Republicans, but gets buried 1-92 percent within the Democrat segment.
The way this campaign is going, with both candidates heading toward negative approval ratings – in this survey, Cuccinelli scored a 35:41 percent positive to negative on the personal approval index; McAuliffe 34:33 percent – it is likely that the overall turnout will be depressed. Large numbers of voters expressing continued disapproval of their political choices tend to lead to low turnouts on Election Day. Considering this is an odd-numbered election, which always features a low voter participation rate, 2013 could see one of the lowest-ever turnouts if the current campaign tone continues. As the heat of the contest grows more intense, the tone will likely worsen and not lighten.
Polling this race is difficult because the potentially record low turnout will be a critical determining factor. Virginia Republicans tend to run better in lower turnout elections, suggesting that the Democrats do best among groups with the lowest propensity to vote. Therefore, it may prove difficult to accurately use past figures to judge the upcoming participation percentage.
In the 2012 presidential race, a campaign where Virginia Democrats performed very well, 80.4 percent of the voters the Commonwealth records as “active” went to the polls. In the 2008 presidential election, 76.4 percent participated. Turning the to mid-term and off-year elections, the voter participation rate dropped to 46.9 percent in 2010, a campaign where Republicans excelled from the top of the ballot to the bottom (for example, they scored a 53.6 – 42.2 percent result on the aggregate congressional vote). In the last statewide gubernatorial campaign, the 2009 election where Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) captured more than 58 percent of the vote, 42.4 percent were recorded as casting ballots. In 2011, an election that featured only state legislative races, the turnout rate registered just 30.6 percent.
Taking into account the Virginia Republicans’ performance in lower turnout elections, the Q-Poll’s six-point spread is probably much closer if one accepts the premise that the turnout in this race, due to disapproving views toward both candidates, will probably drop below the McDonnell election’s 42.4% rate. Using this number and the 2011 factor (30.6 percent) as the two turnout benchmarks, it is probable that the 2013 participation percentage will fall somewhere in between these two points, but likely much closer to the higher figure. Based upon past voting trends, the lower the turnout drops, the better Cuccinelli may fare.
A turnout of 40 percent or under could spell bad news for McAuliffe, thus you can expect his campaign to be heavily emphasizing their internal Get-Out-The-Vote programs. Since both candidates’ negative messages appear to be moving numbers, expect the harsh advertising to increase.