McAuliffe Leading Virginia Governor’s Race Between Two Guys Voters Don’t Like

Virginia's voters really don't seem to like their choices for Governor.


According to a new poll from Public Policy Polling, presumptive Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe is leading Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli in a race where the voters don’t really seem to like either of the candidates at the top of the ticket:

PPP’s first look at the race for Governor of Virginia since January finds that as voters get to know the candidates better…more are becoming undecided. That’s not the normal trend, but it’s also not normal to have an election where voters dislike both candidates five months out.

That’s the case here. Terry McAuliffe is not popular, with 29% of voters holding a favorable opinion of him to 33% with a negative one. But we find that Ken Cuccinelli is even more unpopular, with 44% of voters rating him unfavorably to just 32% with a positive opinion. As a result we find McAuliffe leading Cuccinelli by a 5 point margin, 42/37. McAuliffe also led by 5 points on our January poll, but the share of voters who are undecided has spiked from 13% at the start of the year now up to 21%.

Cuccinelli has a big problem with independent voters. Only 25% have a favorable opinion of him to 51% with a negative one, and he trails McAuliffe by 11 points with them at 39/28. Democrats are also a little bit more sold on McAuliffe with 82% supporting him right now, while 78% of Republicans are committed to Cuccinelli.

The polling in this race has been all over the place of late. After months in which McAuliffe and Cuccinelli were essentially tied, Virginia’s Attorney General opened up a lead in a Washington Post poll released at the beginning of this month. Then, a Quinnipiac poll of the state showed McAuliffe leading Cuccinelli by five points, although it’s worth noting that was a poll of Registered rather than Likely Voters.  In all of the recent polling, we’re still seeing a large number of undecided/uncommitted voters, which indicates that most Virginians still aren’t paying much attention to the race right now. That will start changing over the summer to some extent, but it’s likely that voters won’t be fully engaged with this race until September. Until then, both sides and their proxies are likely to do what they can to define the race in the terms most favorable to them. In the end, as I’ve said before, the winner of this race will likely end up being the candidate that the voters dislike the least. At the same time, though, a race where the voters don’t really like either of the candidates at the top of the ticket is likely to be one with low turnout. Who that ends up helping is anyone’s guess, but it probably helps Cuccinelli.

Incidentally, the poll also found that E.W. Jackson, the GOP’s controversial nominee for Lt. Governor, isn’t having much of an impact on the race at the moment:

Shifting gears to the Lieutenant Governor’s race, despite the all national media attention he received last week EW Jackson is still pretty much a blank slate to voters in Virginia. 71% of voters have no opinion about him one way or the other. He is unpopular among folks who are familiar with him as 9% rate him positively to 20% with an unfavorable opinion. In hypothetical match ups with Democrats Aneesh Chopra and Ralph Northam he trails by margins of 36/29 and 35/29 respectively.

Virginia’s Democrats head to the polls next Tuesday for their primary. McAuliffe is running for Governor unopposed, so he will win the nomination, but there are contested races for both Lt. Governor and Attorney General. In those races, more than half of Virginia Democrats say they haven’t made up their minds yet. Considering that there’s been almost no advertising in the major media for either of those races, it’s not surprising that most Virginians have no idea who’s on the ballot. Indeed, I can honestly say that I really don’t know much about any of the candidates in those races even though I do know who’s running, and I tend to pay an inordinate amount of attention to politics. I would expect turnout for the Democratic primary to be extremely low.

Getting back to the Governor’s race, it’s already fairly clear which direction the two sides are going to take. Cuccinelli has already begun the process of trying to recast himself as a Republican in the mold of Bob McDonnell, who is finishing up his four years in office with high job approval numbers, a budget surplus, and a generally solid record  of actually getting things done. At the same time, Republicans are trying to cast McAuliffe as an outsider and a crony capitalist who built the company he once headed mostly on corporate tax breaks and direct government subsidies for a product that nobody seems to want to buy. On the opposite side, Democrats will clearly try to paint Cuccinelli as a far-right social conservative, something that will arguably be easier with Jackson on the ticket as I pointed out last week. Which side succeeds depend on how the race goes, but the one thing that seems exceedingly clear is that the voters really don’t like either of these Gubernatorial candidates, and that the winner is likely to be the guy they dislike the least.

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. michael reynolds says:

    If I were either candidate I’d be depressed that this post has been up here for quite a while without comment from the normally voluble commenterazzi. No one cares enough to even denounce these guys.

  2. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: THEY BOTH SUCK!

    There you go.

  3. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: But to your actual point, I’ve lived in Virginia since 2003, which means two gubernatorial elections (2005 and 2009) and so far this year I see far less interest than I did in either of those.

    Perhaps things will heat up in a couple months, but right now nobody seems to care.

  4. stonetools says:

    It’s an off year election, so winning will be all about turning out your base and depressing your opponent’s base. The one surefire way to do that-negative advertising. I suspect the air war will begin June 1st.
    As to the specifics of each person’s program or their likeability, I suspect that this will matter less than we think. What exactly was McDonnell’s program in 2009 other than he had a good hair of hair, that he was a “moderate” Republican(i.e. not concerned with social issues) and that he had a secret plan to solve NOVA’s transportation problem without raising taxes? Since then, he’s prosecuted the culture war, quietly seen Virginia’s economy benefit from stimulus spending , and finally proposed a transportation plan that included a tax increase (opposed by the current Republican ticket). Hey, he still has a good head of hair, though.

    Even more than in 2009, both parties reflect the national brand. If you like a program that includes support for gay rights, support for women’s rights, and is at least open to the idea of spending more for infrastructure and raising taxes to pay for it, you’ll vote Democrat: if you are vehemently opposed to all this, you’ll vote Republican. “Likeability” will play less of a role, I suspect. I suspect the independents will remember that McDonnell made no mention of abortion, climate science, gay rights, or Obamacare in his 2009 campaign, but his administration spent a lot of time carrying out campaigns against all these, with Cuccinelli enthusiastically leading the fight. Surely, even the dumbest independent must know we’ll see more of the same in a Cuccinelli Administration.
    MacAuliffe is pretty much a bland blob in the eyes of the voters. I doubt any voter is going to give a damn about his business dealings, outside the hard core Republican faithful.I suspect the Republicans will move on pretty quickly to make this about “God, guns, and taxes”-the standard Republican trope of the last 30 years. He needs to quickly define himself as against a Republican program of demonizing gays, abortions, and science, and for a commonsense transportation plan. Looking at his website, he’s begun to do that, but he needs to do much more.

  5. Woody says:

    This sounds eerily like an election from my past in Minnesota. The state GOP and DFL (Democratic-Farmer-Labor) both nominated meh candidates, leaving an amazing opportunity for Jesse Ventura, who was a thin-skinned radio jock on the local sports station. I spoke to several citizens at my local polling place who proudly told me it was their first time voting, and every last one of them were there to vote Ventura.

    He was elected with an impressive 37% of the vote. He enjoyed Being Gov much more than he did Working Gov.

    Any fun-lovin’ semi-celebs knocking about Richmond or Norfolk?

  6. Smooth Jazz says:

    “According to a new poll from Public Policy Polling, presumptive Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe is leading Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli in a race where the voters don’t really seem to like either of the candidates at the top of the ticket:”

    I would be very wary of DailyKOS/PPP Polls in election off years. Two years ago, DailyKOS/PPP botch the WIS polls and were WAY OFF versus the final results (Gov & WIS Supreme Court polls). A month ago, they had the Liberal up on the broken candidate Sanford in the SC race by 10 points a week before the election and tied the day before the election; The Liberal was blown away by 10 points. DailyKOS/PPP wasn’t exactly on the money there either.

    Besides, with the ObamaCare disaster barrelling down the train track and Obama mired in scandals & indecision and looking like an empty suit by the day, any Dem running in Swing races in 2013 & 2014 will be running for cover.

  7. @Smooth Jazz: Uh, PPP correctly predicted Creigh Deeds’s lost to Bob McDonnell and consistently had him down by approximately 20 points during the whole election.

    God, why do I bother?

  8. @Woody: Tareq Salahi, of White House party crashing fame, declared his intention to run but it takes a lot of work to get on the ballot here in Virginia for a statewide race (10,000 signatures from registered voters with at least 400 from each of the 11 congressional districts). He (and anyone else that wants to run) has until June 11th to file their paperwork.

  9. superdestroyer says:

    Virginia is just the latest example that shows how short term the thinking of the Republicans are. Instead of thinking about growing their party and focusing on the long term, the activist focus on getting even with the party establishment.

    Maybe when the Republican Party establishment finally finds a way past the failures of the Bush Clan and Bush Administration, social conservatives will not feel compelled to punish the establishment.