Come November 7, 2017, Virginia voters will select either Democrat Ralph Northam or Republican Ed Gillespie as the state’s next governor.
According to a recent Monmouth University Poll, (MUP), President Donald J. Trump’s policies and persona will play a role in which of the two will win, though he has been in the White House for only six months.
Last year, the Republican candidate Trump lost Virginia to Hillary Clinton, the Democrat, but he went on to win the White House.
According to the first pre-election MUP, if the election were held now Northam and Gillespie would both receive 44 percent of the vote, a dead heat four months before the election occurs.
Libertarian candidate Cliff Hyra gets 3 percent of the vote and 9 percent are undecided.
Virginia Commonwealth University released similar results on August 9, giving Northam a slight edge over Gillespie” 42-37 percent.
Another 6 percent say they support Libertarian candidate Cliff Hyra, while 13 percent are undecided.
The VCU poll said Democratic candidates up and down the ballot have a narrow lead over Republicans at this point heading to the election.
The VCU poll said voters prefer Democrats over the GOP to control the House of Delegates.
Democrats will capture the state house for the third consecutive time, if Northam wins.
According to the MUP, Trump is having a small but decisive impact on the Virginia Governor’s race. New Jersey is the only other state staging a gubernatorial election.
President Trump is viewed unfavorably by 57 percent of the participants in the recent MUP; only 37 percent have a favorable view of him. Nearly four out of 10 voters said Trump would be a factor in how they would vote this fall, according to the poll.
Half of the voters supporting Northam listed Trump as a factor to lean toward him, compared to one third for Gillespie and one third for third party voters.
“A small but crucial portion of Northam’s support is coming from voters who are primarily anti-Trump,” said Patrick Murray, Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “Unless one of the candidates breaks out with a clear advantage on Virginia-Centric issues the president could wind up s a decisive factor in the outcome.”
The poll noted if Trump were not a factor, 12 percent of Northam voters would shift their support elsewhere and Gillespie would have a five point lead.
Northam has been seeking to take advantage of the sour view Virginians have of Trump.
He calls him a “Narcissistic Maniac” on the campaign stump and during a recent debate with his rival.
Virginia was the only southern state Hillary Clinton won last November, and Gillespie has been seeking to keep a distance from Trump.
But Gillespie barely won over Corey Stewart, a strong Trump supporter, during the June primary which may pressure the Republican nominee to embrace the unpopular Trump’s policies and even cause some of his strategists to lure voters who support the President.
Gillespie has 91 percent support among his fellow Republicans and Northam has 88 percent support among his fellow Democrats.
Independents prefer Gillespie by a narrow 42-38 percent margin.
NSU Political Science Professor Dr. Carol Pretlow said this poll is too early to determine who would win come November.
She said even later polls may not register correctly the mood or the opinion of the Trump voters who are not as active and are quieter than GOP activists and those who may choose to participate in polls.
Further she said a segment of these “silent Trump voters” may cling to the president regardless of how unpopular he is personally or his policies. They are satisfied, she said, with any achievement the president makes, regardless of how small.
So the scandals related to accusations of his 2016 campaign colluding with the Russian government to help him win last year are unlikely to cause Trump to lose support of the die-hard and quiet voter.
While Trump is a presence in the Virginia election, few voters would actually alter their intention at this point if he weren’t a consideration. Nearly all Gillespie voters (99 percent) would stick with their choice.
Somewhat fewer Northam voters (88 percent) say they would stay with the Democrat, with many of the potential defectors (7 percent) moving into the undecided column.
Taken together, these results suggest that Gillespie could actually have a lead of 45 percent to 40 percent over Northam – with 12 percent being undecided – if Trump did not currently figure into the equation.
Murray added, “National pundits like to paint Virginia gubernatorial races as referenda on whichever president was just elected and they are almost always wrong. 2017 may turn out to be the first time you can credibly draw a direct link between the Oval Office and the race for governor.”
Among Gillespie voters, 78 percent approve of Trump and 18 percent disapprove. Among Northam voters, less than 1 percent approve of the president’s performance and 96 percent disapprove. Among those who are undecided or support the third party candidate, 22 percent approve and 60 percent disapprove of Trump.
The current governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe may not be a drag on Northam with his 52 percent positive rating from Virginia voters for his job performance.
Among Gillespie voters, 24 percent approve and 66 percent disapprove of Gov. McAuliffe. Among Northam voters, 83 percent approve of the governor and just 9 percent disapprove of the incumbent.
The Monmouth University Poll also found some interesting regional differences in current vote intentions.
Northam has a 13 point lead over Gillespie in Northern Virginia (50-37 percent) and a 9 point lead in the eastern part of the Commonwealth, which includes Hampton Roads, (50-41 percent).
The race is virtually tied in the central region (43- 41 percent for Northam), while Gillespie has an 18 point advantage in the western half of Virginia (52-34 percent for Northam).
Regionally, according to the VCU Poll, Northern Virginia gives a big advantage to Northam: 54-25. Gillespie has a lead of 47-21 percent in the western part of the state. Northam is leading by 8 points in the southcentral part of Virginia, but only four points in his home region of Hampton Roads. In the northwestern Gillespie leads by three points.
Four years ago, when Governor Terry McAuliffe won narrowly, the Democrat had a larger 22 point advantage over his Republican opponent in Northern Virginia (58-36 percent). He had a similar 9 point margin in the east (51-42 percent), and a 4 point edge in central Virginia (47-43 percent).
The 2013 Republican candidate, Ken Cuccinelli, won the western region by 21 points (57-36 percent) that year, which is similar to Gillespie’s current advantage there.
The issue of interest among voters has health care at the top of the list at (37 percent); followed by jobs (25 percent); the economy (20 percent); and education (20 per cent). Transportation and infrastructure (11 percent), taxes (10 percent), and illegal immigration (9 percent) are named by about 1-in-10 voters.
The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from July 20 to 23, 2017 with 502 Virginia residents likely to vote in the 2017 gubernatorial election. The results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percent.
The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, N.J.
By Leonard E. Colvin