Friday, May 17, 2013

McAuliffe pulls away from Cuccinelli as Quinnipiac finds a 2012 style gubernatorial electorate

Terry McAuliffe and Creigh Deeds during a 2009 Democratic Primary debate for Governor. Photo courtesy of A.P.

Quinnipiac University is out with their fifth survey of the 2009 Virginia Governor's race, this time showing Democrat Terry McAuliffe with his highest survey margin yet over Republican Ken Cuccinelli.

If the election for Governor were being held today, and the candidates were Terry McAuliffe the Democrat and Ken Cuccinelli the Republican, for whom would you vote?

Terry McAuliffe (D)  --  43%
Ken Cuccinelli  (R)  --  38%
Unsure/Other  --  20%
The results may surprise some, considering the barrage of negative press McAuliffe has received since Quinnipiac's last poll in March. But either Virginia voters are tuning out stories about McAuliffe's preference for Washington fundraisers over the birth of his children, or they just don't care. Because the Democrat has seen a 5 point gain in his support since March, while the Cooch has dropped 2 points.

So what gave McAuliffe his largest lead of the Virginia Quinnipiac survey yet, especially in light of the perceived negative press?

An initial glance at the crosstabs do little to explain the mystery, as both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli are winning similar portions of their own base, and Independents. In fact, Cuccinelli is actually doing slightly better than McAuliffe with his base, the opposing party, and Independents.

But a look at the demographic and partisan make-up of Quinnipiac poll respondents sheds light on McAuliffe's rise. Simply, the current electorate is decidedly 2012-esque.

The chart below documents every Quinnipiac Virginia Governor survey taken this season, including the partisan identification of the respondents of each poll.

As you can see, the most recent survey found Democrats with a 10 point partisan identification advantage over Republicans. That advantage is strong enough to give McAuliffe a 5 point lead over his challenger, despite both candidates performing equally well among their own party's base and Independents.

Not only does this month's Quinnpiac poll feature the largest party I.D. advantage for Democrats to date, but if it holds through November, it would represent a net 14 point shift from the last Virginia Governor's race in 2009.

That year, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell defeated his Democratic opponent Creigh Deeds in a near 20-point landslide, and Republicans turned out in much larger numbers than Quinnipiac now finds. In fact, that year, it was the Republicans that held a 4 point partisan I.D. advantage over the Democrats (37% R, 33% D, 30% I).

What would the new Quinnipiac poll look like had their findings detected an electorate as Republican as 2009, all other findings remaining the same?

Not surprisingly, a 14 point shift in party I.D. (from D +10 to R +4), produces a net 10 point shift in Ken Cuccinelli's favor (from a 43-38% deficit, to a 45-40% lead).

Of course, normal caveats apply. Pollsters find what they find (with the exception of a couple firms that do some of their own weighting - Rasmussen Reports and PPP, to be specific). But it's undeniable that if D +10 holds, it would be a remarkable turnaround from four years ago.

A similar phenomenon can be seen with respect to Quinnipiac's most recent racial identification finding:

The chart above tracks the racial identification findings of all Quinnipiac Virginia Governor surveys, and finds Virginia Gubernatorial voters to be 70% white on average, and 30% non-white. Their most recent survey pegged racial identity at 71% white, 29% non-white. Like partisan identification, this finding represents a pretty large departure from the 2009 Governor's race. Than, 78% of voters identified as white, with just 22% identifying as non-white. Had Quinnipiac found a similar electorate in their last poll, McAuliffe would lead Cuccinelli by just 1 point, and not by a 43-38% margin:

It's impossible to know what kind of electorate we'll see in November 2013,  but the odds are that it will not be on par with Presidential turnout (as those elections tend to feature a younger, more ethnically diverse pool of voters). Yet Quinnipiac is currently finding just that - a gubernatorial electorate that looks awfully similar to 2012 (70/30% white/non-white; D+7 party I.D.). Such a scenario is possible, but Terry McAuliffe will need a very, very good night to pull those numbers off in a non-presidential, odd-year election.

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