Roanoke College

RC Poll: McAuliffe and Cuccinelli in statistical dead-heat, both seen unfavorably

  • RC Poll: McAuliffe and Cuccinelli in statistical dead-heat, both seen unfavorably

  • 09/19/13
  • Democrat Terry McAuliffe holds a statistically insignificant lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli (35%-33%), while 22 percent of likely voters in Virginia remain undecided in the 2013 Gubernatorial election, according to The Roanoke College Poll. Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis claimed 8 percent of respondents.*

    The Roanoke College Poll interviewed 874 likely voters in Virginia between September 9 and September 15 and has a margin of error of +3.3 percent.

    In the down-ticket races, Democrat Ralph Northam narrowly leads Republican E. W. Jackson for lieutenant governor (Northam-34%, Jackson-30%, Undecided-33%), and Democrat Mark Herring and Republican Mark Obenshain are in a statistical dead-heat for Attorney General (Herring-33%, Obenshain-31%, Undecided-34%).

    The Virginia Race for Governor - 2013

    Likely voters continue to learn more about the candidates, but they don't feel very positive about their major party choices. Both candidates are "underwater" again in terms of favorable/unfavorable ratings (Cuccinelli-28% favorable, 42% unfavorable; McAuliffe-27% favorable, 31% unfavorable). While the percentage of respondents who said they did not know enough about the candidates to have an opinion about them is just over half of what it was in the July Roanoke College Poll, most of that shift for each candidate went to the unfavorable category.

    More than half of those who said they would vote for McAuliffe (55%) said their choice was more a vote against Cuccinelli than for McAuliffe. An almost identical percentage (56%) of Cuccinelli supporters said their vote was a vote for Cuccinelli, not a vote against McAuliffe.

    Respondents were asked to rate the candidates on a 1 to 10 scale (1 is lowest, 10 highest) on several characteristics. McAuliffe was ranked higher on honesty (Mean=5.16 to 5.00), understanding problems of people like the respondent (5.02-4.60), and understanding the problems facing Virginia (5.57-5.32). Cuccinelli was ranked higher on the right experience to be governor (5.58-5.32). Likely voters clearly see ideological differences between the candidates. With 1 as conservative and 10 as liberal, McAuliffe earned an average 6.69 rating, while Cuccinelli was rated at 3.43. Respondents rated themselves a collective 5.38 on that same scale.

    Likely voters are much more familiar with the potential problems with Cuccinelli's candidacy as compared to McAuliffe. Less than half (46%) of respondents were somewhat or very familiar with Green Tech automotive and McAuliffe's involvement with the company run by Hillary Clinton's brother. One-third (32%) said those stories made them less likely to vote for McAuliffe. By contrast, nearly two-thirds (64%) were at least somewhat familiar with Star Scientific and the Attorney General's office involvement with CONSOL Energy. Just over one-third (35%) said those stories made them less likely to vote for Cuccinelli.

    The sources of support for each candidate follow what we would expect. There is a significant gender gap and racial differences. Independents are nearly twice as likely to be undecided as either Republicans or Democrats. Moderates and conservatives are twice as likely to be undecided as liberals. Cuccinelli holds an insignificant lead among Independents (31%-30%), and McAuliffe leads among moderates (42%-23%). Regional differences appear to smaller than in most elections.

    Respondents were asked the first thought or word that came to mind when we read the name of each candidate. No choices were read. More than 70 percent of respondents offered some type of response, ranging from "strong leader" to "OK" to "questionable" to descriptions that cannot be printed in a press release. The most common response for each candidate was "dishonest" (McAuliffe-13%; Cuccinelli 10%). "Conservative" (9%) was a close second for Cuccinelli. Responses for McAuliffe were more across the board and difficult to categorize. To be sure, both candidates were described in positive terms by many likely voters, but the negative responses were also numerous. Due to the sheer number of responses and their range, we did not attempt to categorize them as positive or negative.

    Issues in the campaign

    Likely voters' attention remains focused on the economy. The most important issues in the campaign are the economy (25%) and unemployment (13%). The only other issues to be named by more than 5 percent of the likely voters were education (8%), transportation (6%), and health care (6%).

    Virginians reported paying more attention to the campaign as compared to July responses.  More than two-thirds (68%) of likely voters say they have thought some or quite a lot about the election. Still, almost one-third (31%) report only having thought a little about the election.

    Elected officials' approval ratings and favorable/unfavorable views

    Pres. Obama's favorable rating is 46 percent (43% unfavorable), which is 1 percentage point higher than July. Gov. McDonnell's rating has slipped to 42 percent since July, while his unfavorable rating has risen to 28 percent. Sen. Mark Warner's favorable rating tops the list at 57 percent, while Sen. Tim Kaine holds a 48% approval rating.

    Pres. Obama's job approval rating has held steady since July, with 40 percent approving and 49 percent disapproving of the job he is doing. Gov. McDonnell's approval rating is down slightly from July at 46 percent, while Congressional approval is 10 percent.

    Views of Virginia and the U.S.

    A majority of likely Virginia voters (63%) think the United States is on the wrong track while 25 percent think the country is headed in the right direction.  Perceptions of the Commonwealth remain more optimistic than the country (45% think Virginia is on the right track; 35% think it is headed in the wrong direction). Both sets of numbers are somewhat more pessimistic than they were in July.


    "Voters continue to learn more about the candidates, but, in this case, familiarity appears to be breeding contempt," said Dr. Harry Wilson, director of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research. "Both candidates are now viewed in an unfavorable light. That is particularly true of Ken Cuccinelli."

    "In an election that will probably come down to who is better at turning out their supporters, Cuccinelli seems to be motivating people on both sides. Likely McAullife voters are as motivated to stop Cuccinelli as they are to elect their candidate. When we asked voters to play word association, neither candidate was characterized in a positive way. When 'dishonest' is the most common response to each, you know the candidates are not generally popular. McAuliffe's position has certainly improved since the July Roanoke College Poll, but there are still many likely voters who are undecided."

    * Likely voters were defined as registered voters who said they were very likely or somewhat likely to vote in November. All references to likely voters in this release, other than this paragraph, refer to that definition. Looking at other voter models-including only those registered voters who said they were very likely to vote, McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli (37%-35%), with Sarvis at 7 percent (N=684). Including only those registered voters who said they were very likely to vote and voted in 2012, the percentages remain unchanged (McAuliffe---37%, Cuccinelli-35%, Sarvis-7%; N=618). Including likely voters and adding in those who said they are leaning toward a candidate reduces McAuliffe's lead over Cuccinelli (37%-36%), while Sarvis rises to 9 percent, and 17 percent remain undecided.


    Interviewing for The Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. between September 9 and September 15, 2013. A total of 874 likely 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 37 percent of the completed interviews.

    Questions answered by the entire sample of 874 likely voters are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus approximately 3.3 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 3.3 percentage points above or below the figure that would be obtained by interviewing all likely voters in Virginia 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 frequencies, as well as crosstabs, may be found on the Roanoke College web site.


  • Dr. Harry Wilson
  • (540) 375-2415 (office), (540) 992-1333 (home), (540) 293-4206 (cell)