Democrats Hold Slight Lead In Virginia Governor’s Race, Libertarian Could Play Spoiler


The latest poll of the Virginia Governor’s race shows Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe with a slight edge over Republican Ken Cuccinelli, with a third-party candidate possibly playing the spoilers role::

Democrat Terry McAuliffe has a 4-point lead over Republican state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor’s race, according to a poll out Tuesday morning.

The survey by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling has McAuliffe at 41 percent, compared with 37 percent for Cuccinelli and 7 percent for libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis. Fifteen percent said they’re undecided.

McAuliffe also leads among self-described independents, 40 percent to 33 percent. Twenty percent of independents are undecided.

The poll, shared early with POLITICO, also finds both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli with underwater favorability ratings: 32 percent of voters view Cuccinelli favorably, while 47 percent have a negative opinion of him. McAuliffe’s ratings are 34 percent favorable and 36 percent unfavorable.

That the Libertarian Party nominee is pulling in more than the margin between the two major party candidates is, of course, likely due in no small part to the fact that both candidates are viewed quite negatively by the public, a problem that seems to be persisting for them despite several months now of running mostly positive ads throughout the state. If Sarvis’s numbers stay where they are, or improve, he’s likely to have a credible argument for being included in the fall debates and, while he won’t win, he could end up providing voters who really don’t like either of the major party candidates with an alternative to enough of an extent to be the deciding factor in the election while simultaneously denying either candidate of a clear majority.

The same poll also showed the Democratic candidates for Lt. Governor and Attorney General with slight leads in their races:

Democrats are also leading the Virginia races for lieutenant governor and attorney general, the PPP poll found.

For lieutenant governor, Democratic state Sen. Ralph Northam leads GOP pastor and lawyer E.W. Jackson, 42 percent to 35 percent. For attorney general, Democratic state Sen. Mark Herring leads GOP state Sen. Mark Obenshain, 38 percent to 36 percent.

Despite all the headlines Jackson garnered when he was selected for the GOP ticket in May, most Virginia voters still don’t know much about him: 57 percent said they had no opinion. Of the voters who do, Jackson’s numbers are almost 2-to-1 unfavorable: 15 percent said they view him favorably, compared with 28 percent who view him unfavorably.

This suggests that Jackson’s opponent, State Senator Ralph Northram, will have much room to grow in the polls as the voters get to know his opponent better. The Attorney General’s race will be much harder to predict, although it generally tends to follow the direction of the Governor’s race.

Another factor that could influence the Virginia races is the situation surrounding current Governor Bob McDonnell. There, PPP finds that the ongoing scandal over gifts received from major donors by the Governor and his family has hurt his job approval numbers significantly:

PPP’s newest Virginia poll finds that Bob McDonnell’s net approval rating has dropped 12 points in the last month, and that for the first time since taking office he’s under water. Only 36% of voters approve of the job he’s doing to 41% who disapprove.

McDonnell’s numbers are down across the board from our last poll of the state. He’s dropped from 73% approval with Republicans to 62%, 22% approval with Democrats to 14%, and from a 39/41 spread to a 36/43 one with independents. McDonnell’s favorability numbers are even worse than his approval numbers with just 32% of voters seeing him in a positive light to 45% who have a negative opinion.

McDonnell’s ethics issues seem to be driving this downturn in his popularity. Only 31% of voters in the state consider him to be an ethical politician, compared to 45% who do not. McDonnell’s issues could be a liability for the Republican ticket this fall as 31% of voters say they’d be less likely to vote for a candidate backed by him to only 15% that say they’d be more likely to support someone based on his blessing. Among independent voters it’s 29% less likely and 13% more likely.

There is one piece of good news for McDonnell in the poll though- only 35% of voters think he should resign at this point to 45% who believe he should remain in office. The reason for the divide between that and his approval numbers is that only 62% of voters who disapprove of him are so unhappy that they think he should resign. 56% of Democrats think he should step down, but 74% of Republicans think he should stay on and independents by a 44/34 margin think he should continue in office as well

Whether McDonnell’s troubles will impact the GOP in November is still unclear, but the scandal has effectively removed him as someone who can credibly campaign for the statewide ticket and, in areas like Northern Virginia and Tidewater, that may be all the Democrats need.

FILED UNDER: 2013 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. legion says:

    Libertarian Could Play Spoiler

    I hate to be That Guy, but do Libertarians that actually run for office have any impact on races other than “playing spoiler” & throwing it to the underdog?

  2. PJ says:

    The guy who lost the 2009 GOP nomination for for attorney general to Ken Cuccinelli has been added to Bob McDonnell’s defense team…

  3. C. Clavin says:

    Finally…a legitimate use for a Libertarian.

  4. Don says:

    To hell with the Cooch and Tax Cheat Terry…. I’m voting for Sarvis.

  5. stonetools says:

    I think as things get closer, the libertarian share of vote will shrink beneath 1 per cent was people accept the logic than voting for the Libertarian is throwing away the vote. I think that if the Libertarian candidate plays spoiler, it will be at the expense of Cuccinelli.
    Heck, most Libertarians (including IMO the OP ) are just Republicans who are ashamed of being called Republicans anyway.

  6. mantis says:

    The libertarian is pulling equally from Dems and Reps, according to PPP, so no real spoiler here yet.

    Don’t worry though, Cuccinelli’s team is hitting the press with some poll unskewing. These people do not learn.

  7. Sejanus says:

    @stonetools: I don’t think libertarians will lose much of their electorate just because voting to them is pointless. I think that the vast majority of their voters are people like Doug who have little regard for the fact they’re throwing their vote away. If we assume that there are L voters who are actually delusional enough to think that their candidates can win, than we can immediately conclude that they will vote L for a very long time. If a person hasn’t realized by now that L candidates are hopeless, why should we assume that he will come to his senses in the future?

  8. @mantis: The worst thing is that PPP consistently showed Deeds (D) down by 20 points for months before the election in 2009.

    I guess that means they’re biased against the GOP or something.

  9. Andre Kenji says:

    Libertarians aren´t throwing their voters away. If the Republicans thinks that Libertarians should vote for them, them Republicans should enact ideas that pleases Libertarians. It´s simple as that.

  10. Bob says:

    Voting Libertarian is not throwing your vote away. You throw your vote away by voting for Big Government Oppressors.