RC Poll: Cuccinelli holds narrow lead over McAuliffe but one-quarter of registered voters undecided

Down-ticket races in statistical tie

Republican Ken Cuccinelli leads Democrat Terry McAuliffe (37%-31%), but more than one-fourth (27%) of registered voters in Virginia remain undecided in the 2013 gubernatorial election, according to The Roanoke College Poll. Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis claimed 5 percent of respondents.

The Roanoke College Poll interviewed 525 registered voters in Virginia between July 8 and July 14 and has a margin of error of +4.3 percent.

In the down-ticket races, Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican E. W. Jackson were statistically tied for lieutenant governor (Northam-30%, Jackson-28%, Undecided-41%), and Republican Mark Obenshain and Democrat Mark Herring were in a statistical tie for attorney general (Obenshain-33%, Herring-29%, Undecided-38%). Almost two-thirds (62%) of registered voters said they have thought only a little or not at all about the gubernatorial campaign thus far, while 36 percent said they have given the election some or a lot of thought.

The Virginia Race for Governor - 2013

The major party candidates are becoming more familiar to Virginians, and views are somewhat more positive, with each now seen more favorably than unfavorably. A plurality of Virginia registered voters did not know enough about McAuliffe (45%) to have an opinion about him, and 34 percent don't have an opinion of Cuccinelli. Cuccinelli has improved his favorable/unfavorable split (33 %/26%), compared with the April Roanoke College Poll, while McAuliffe has more than doubled his favorable views (24%/20%).  

A plurality of respondents (47%) don't know enough about Cuccinelli to gauge his ideology, while 23 percent thought he was too conservative for Virginia and 26 percent thought he was about right. Nearly two-thirds (64%) were not familiar with McAuliffe's ideology; 15 percent see him as too liberal and 17 percent thought his ideology was about right. All of those figures are within the margin of error from the April Roanoke College Poll.

When those respondents who were "leaning" toward a candidate were included in the analysis, Cuccinelli led McAuliffe (39%-33%), Sarvis stayed steady at 5 percent, and the number of undecided voters dropped to 23 percent. Sarvis seems to draw about equally from both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli, but that number is very small. The sources of support for each candidate follow what we would expect. That said, Independents were twice as likely to be undecided as either Republicans or Democrats. Moderates and conservatives were twice as likely to be undecided as liberals. Cuccinelli led among Independents (33%-21%), and McAuliffe led among moderates (40%-29%).

The most important issues in the campaign were unemployment (24%) and the economy (20%). The only other issues to be named by more than 5 percent of the registered voters were transportation (12%) and education (8%). It is not surprising, then, that a majority of respondents (61%) said a candidate's economic positions were more important in determining their vote than positions on social issues (17%).

Star Scientific situation

Regarding the news story involving Star Scientific, its owner Jonnie Williams, and his involvement with gifts and loans to Gov. McDonnell and others, more than half (60%) of registered voters said they have not been following it closely at all. Only 9 percent said they have been following closely, and 25 percent said they have been following it somewhat closely. Of those who had been following very or somewhat closely, a large majority (83%) were able to identify McDonnell as being involved, and just over half (54%) said that Cuccinelli is part of the story. As "controls," we also asked if respondents thought that Senator Mark Warner (4%) or McAuliffe (8%) were involved.

Issues in the campaign

Opinion on the transportation package approved this year was split, with 45 percent agreeing with the policy and 43 percent disagreeing with the policy. Similarly, half (50%) of those surveyed said that tax rates, at times, need to be increased to fund things like transportation and education, while 40 percent thought that government should find other ways to fund these priorities.

On several social issues, opinion was largely the same as in previous Roanoke College Polls.[1] Opinion was split on same-sex marriage, with 45 percent favoring it and 43 percent in opposition. Almost half (48%) favored a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, while 19 percent preferred legal resident status only, and 22 percent thought they should be deported. Regarding background checks for firearms purchases, 84 percent favored expanding them to include all purchases at gun shows, and 69 percent favored universal checks.

A plurality of those interviewed (47%) thought we should protect the environment even at the risk of limiting domestic energy supplies, while 27 percent thought we should emphasize energy development even if the environment suffers to some extent. Conversely, a majority (62%) favored slowly toughening pollution standards on energy-producing plants, while 31 percent thought we should move more quickly to reduce carbon emissions.

Elected officials' approval ratings and favorable/unfavorable views

President Barack Obama's favorable rating was 45 percent (48% unfavorable), which was somewhat lower than April (48% favorable; 43% unfavorable). McDonnell's rating has, surprisingly, risen marginally since April, from 44 percent to 46 percent favorable. Warner's favorable rating topped the list at 56 percent (up from 49%), while Sen. Tim Kaine held a 44% approval rating (unchanged).

Obama's job approval rating declined from April, with 40 percent approving and 50 percent disapproving of the job he is doing (44% approved; 47% disapproved in April). McDonnell's approval rating was steady at 49 percent, while Congressional approval was 11 percent (down 1%).
Views of Virginia and the United States

A majority of registered Virginia voters (60%) thought the United States was on the wrong track while 30 percent thought the country was headed in the right direction. Perceptions of the Commonwealth remained more optimistic than the country (50% thought Virginia was on the right track; 33% thought it was headed in the wrong direction). Both sets of numbers were slightly more positive than they were in April.

"The political landscape is beginning to clear as voters learn more about the candidates," said Dr. Harry Wilson, director of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research. "Both candidates are now viewed favorably, although there are many voters who don't know much about them. Given the lack of attention being paid to the campaign, that is not surprising."

"There is good news for all gubernatorial candidates in these numbers. Cuccinelli maintains his lead, and McAuliffe has raised his favorable views significantly, while his unfavorable rating barely ticked up. The recently announced Sarvis polled 5 percent, which is pretty good for a third-party candidate."

"Most voters still are not fully aware of the Star Scientific issue, though that is likely to change if it remains in the news. Gov. McDonnell seems to be weathering the storm thus far, but that is subject to change as well. With regard to that and the election, everything is still in play."


Interviewing for The Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Va., between July 8 and July 14, 2013. A total of 525 registered voters in Virginia were interviewed. The sample included both land lines and cell phones and was created so that all cell phone and residential telephone numbers, including unlisted numbers, had a known chance of inclusion. Cell phones constituted 27 percent of the completed interviews.

Questions answered by the entire sample of 525 registered voters are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4.3 percent at the 95 percent level of confidence. This means that in 95 out of 100 samples like the one used here, the results obtained should be no more than 4.3 percentage points above or below the figure that would be obtained by interviewing all Virginia registered voters who have a home telephone or a cell phone. Where the results of subgroups are reported, the sampling error is higher.

Quotas were used to ensure that different regions of the Commonwealth were proportionately represented. The data were statistically weighted for gender, race and age.

A copy of the questionnaire and all frequencies may be found on the Roanoke College website.

[1] Same-sex marriage, gun control, and immigrations were asked in April. Abortion was asked in October, 2012. All responses were within the margin of error with previous results.

Released: July 17, 2013
Contact Name: Dr. Harry Wilson
Contact Phone: (540) 375-2415 (office), (540) 992-1333 (home), (540) 293-4206 (cell)
Contact Email: wilson@roanoke.edu


About the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research

IPOR conducts monthly surveys in Virginia that benefit the community, state and nation. Regular topics include Virginians' consumer confidence and political candidate polling. 

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