Poll: Third party candidate may make difference in crucial election

Posted at 10:55 AM, Nov 03, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-03 10:41:04-05

(CNN) — Democrat Terry McAuliffe holds a seven-point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the marquee political battle for Virginia governor, according to a new poll.

And with days to go until Election Day 2013, the survey from the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University indicates that the third party candidate in the race could be the deciding factor in the outcome of the election.

According to the poll, which was conducted last Friday through Wednesday and released Friday morning, 45% of likely voters in the Commonwealth support McAuliffe, a businessman and politically well-connected former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, 38% back Cuccinelli, Virginia’s Attorney General, with one in ten supporting Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis, and seven percent undecided.

McAuliffe held leads of four-percentage points, six points, 12 points, and 15 points in four other non-partisan live operator surveys released earlier this week by Quinnipiac University, Hampton University, Washington Post/Abt SRBI, and Roanoke College.

The Christopher Newport University poll indicates that more than two-thirds of those backing Sarvis say they are casting their vote as a protest against the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial nominees. Thirty-seven percent of Sarvis backers say they would have voted for Cuccinelli if the Libertarian candidate was not on the ballot, with just 17% saying they would have voted for McAuliffe.

“The Sarvis voters don’t like either Cuccinelli or McAuliffe, but they look like a net loss for Cuccinelli,” said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center. “The fact that Sarvis continues to poll around 10 percent, coupled with the fact that his supporters are becoming as firm in their decision as the McAuliffe and Cuccinelli voters, suggests that he’s not going to fade.”

The poll indicates McAuliffe winning more than nine in ten Democrats, with Cuccinelli grabbing eight in ten Republicans. As with the previous surveys, the new poll indicates a gender gap, with McAuliffe leading by 16 points over Cuccinelli among women voters and men divided.

Getting out the base

While McAuliffe is ahead in all the public opinion polls and while he and his allies have greatly outraised and outspent Cuccinelli and the outside groups backing the GOP candidate, this is expected to be a low-turnout, off-year election, which tends to trend older and slightly more conservative. That’s why, with the clock ticking towards Election Day, both campaigns are putting the emphasis in the homestretch on getting their voters out to the polls.

McAuliffe is joined Sunday by President Barack Obama and the next day by Vice President Joe Biden at rallies in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC, a Democratic stronghold.

While Cuccinelli can’t count on any presidents or former presidents joining him on the campaign trail, he is getting a helping hand from some conservative favorites. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a hero to conservatives for his push to limit the collective bargaining of government workers which led to a showdown that grabbed national attention, teams up with Cuccinelli Saturday. Monday Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, another GOP star, campaigns with Cuccinelli. And on Election eve, the candidate teams up with former Rep. Ron Paul, a three-time presidential candidate who has a strong following among Libertarian voters, at a rally in Richmond. With Sarvis at 10% in the polls, it’s no surprise that Cuccinelli is closing his campaign with Paul at his side.

Much Watched Race

Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states to hold elections for governor in the year after a presidential contest, resulting in outsized attention. And with the Garden State’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, holding a huge lead over his Democratic challenger in his re-election bid, the Virginia race is considered the only competitive statewide contest this year.

If McAuliffe wins, he would break a long streak in Virginia gubernatorial contests. In the last nine elections, the political party controlling the White House lost the governor’s race in the Old Dominion.

Republicans currently control 30 of the nation’s governorships.

The Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University was conducted October 25-30, with 1,038 likely voters in the Old Dominion questioned by telephone. The survey’s sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

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