A poll conducted by Suffolk University, just a week before election day, has Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin essentially tied with governor Terry McAuliffe, with the Democrat polling at 45.6% and the GOP candidate with 45.2%. The survey, which is the last one Suffolk will conduct before the election, shows how close Youngkin and McAuliffe are in the gubernatorial race of a state that President Biden won by more than 10 points just a year ago.
Suffolk University is not the only pollster that shows a very competitive race between McAuliffe and Youngkin. An Emerson College poll had both candidates also tied with 49%, with McAuliffe losing a point compared with Emerson’s previous poll. The FiveThirtyEight poll aggregator has the Democrat with just a 1.7% lead over Youngkin.
Both campaigns have gone to overdrive mode with voters scheduled to go to the polls next Tuesday. McAuliffe, who had campaigned with former President Barack Obama, labeled Youngkin as a mere Trump pawn in order to energize the Democratic base. Youngkin has made numerous campaign events throughout the state, focusing heavily on education as a key issue in the election.
Notably, the Democratic candidate has failed to mention Biden a lot during the final stretch of the campaign. Biden’s approval ratings have, just like in the rest of the country, have been in steep decline in Virginia with a Monmouth poll showing that 52% of Virginia voters disapprove of the President and only 43% approve.
Although polls show a very slim advantage for McAuliffe, those margins are well within the margin of error, meaning that the election is truly a tossup. Although in 2020, the polls underestimated both Biden and Trump, the latter over-performed his poll numbers by a larger number than Biden, with Trump achieving 2 points more than his poll average compared to Biden’s 0.7% advantage. A similar error this year could tip the scales for the GOP.
Youngkin is well-positioned in the issues
According to the Suffolk poll, Virginia voters are focused on three main issues: the economy, education, and healthcare. The Republican Party has received good news in two of these three issues, education and the economy, according to a Monmouth poll released last week, shows that a plurality of voters (39%) trust Youngkin more with the economy than McAuliffe (34%), in the similar issue of taxes, with 40% trusting Youngkin and only 30% trusting McAuliffe.
However, it is in the issue of education where the Republican campaign is arguably having its best numbers. Education has become a crucial issue during this gubernatorial race, as Loudoun County has become the center point of an ongoing fight over what should be in the schools’ curriculums. Youngkin has vehemently defended that parents should play an important role in their children’s education, while McAuliffe infamously said during a debate that he doesn’t believe parents should be telling schools what to teach.
Loudoun County’s school board has also been in the center of a growing scandal over the way the local school authorities handled a sexual assault, by a male student who was allegedly wearing a skirt, case in one of their school’s bathrooms. The school failed to properly handle the issue and the accused went on to sexually assault another student months later, the superintendent of the school also falsely claimed that he was not aware of any sexual assault in a school bathroom. While Youngkin has called for an investigation over the scandal and has called for the resignation of the county’s school board, McAuliffe has refused to address the issue.
The polls have shown that Youngkin’s focus on education might very well pay off, with 22.6% believing education was the top issue of the election. Crucially, a significant plurality of voters agrees with Youngkin’s defense of parental influence over their children’s education, with 49.8% saying that parents should have more influence than school boards in the curriculum, while only 38.8% think that school boards should be the ones with the most influence.
Next week’s election in Virginia will be the first major electoral test for the Biden Administration, if McAuliffe manages to lose a state that they’ve won consistently for 12 years, then Democrats should be extremely worried about what will happen in the 2022 midterm.