VA Governor’s Race Tightens as Northam Leads Gillespie by Three Points. Voters Oppose “Sanctuary Cities,” Majority are Pro-Choice

The new Emerson College poll in Virginia finds Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam leading former Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie in the race for Governor by a margin of three points, 49% to 46%. Libertarian Cliff Hyra takes 1%. The previous Emerson poll had Northam up by five points, 49% to 44%, showing a tightening of the race since mid-October, and an improvement for Gillespie. The poll, with a sample size of n = 810 and a margin of error of +/- 3.4%, was conducted from November 2 – 4.

President Trump has a favorability rating of 43%/51% unfavorable among Virginia voters, a slight improvement over his 42%/53% rating in the last Emerson poll, taken in October 18. Incumbent Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe scores a 40%/42% rating among voters, virtually the same as his 39%/41% rating in mid-October.

Northam’s 47%/46% rating and Gillespie’s 44%/45% shows that both candidates have made themselves better known to the electorate, as the election approaches. In the last Emerson poll, Northam was viewed neutrally or was unknown to 19% of voters. Today, he is unknown by 7%. Likewise, Gillespie has reduced his neutral/unknown number from 15% to 11%. With both candidates boosting high unfavorable numbers, the election will hinge on which candidate is able to maximize turnout his base.

Gillespie is attempting to do so by focusing his campaign on his opposition to “sanctuary cities.” This may be proven to be a winning issue for him – 50% of Virginians oppose sanctuary cities, as compared to 32% who support them. Republicans in particular are opposed by a massive margin of 82% to 7% which could be Gillespie’s strategy for motivating his base. Gillespie may be picking off some Democrats who oppose sanctuary cities as Gillespie leads among voters opposed to sanctuary cities 80% to 14%.

Northam has his own winning issue with abortion, as 51% of Virginia voters are prochoice while n36% are pro-life. Northam, who is pro-choice, wins these voters 77% to 21%, while Gillespie wins pro-life voters 83% to 11%. Voters who are mixed on this hot button issue back Northam by a slim 46% to 45% margin.

The gubernatorial election is sharply divided along regional lines – Northam leads in Northern Virginia 63% to 35% while Gillespie carries Central/Western Virginia 55% to 39%. Eastern Virginia is battleground territory, with Northam currently leading by a razor-thin 47% to 46%. Maximizing turnout in each candidate’s base region will be key to winning this election.

In a generic ballot for the Virginia House of Delegates, Democrats hold a slim lead of 47% to 44%, virtually unchanged from the 48% to 44% margin they led by in mid-October. Independents break 45% to 34% for the Democratic candidate.


The Virginia Emerson College poll was conducted November 2nd through November 4th, 2017, in both English and Spanish, under the Supervision of Professor Spencer Kimball. The sample consisted of early voters and registered voters who indicated that they are very likely to vote, n=810, with a margin of error (MOE) of +/- 3.4 percentage points. The Virginia data was weighted by age, gender, region, party affiliation, and 2016 vote results. It is important to remember that subsets based on gender, age, party breakdown and education carry with them higher margins of error, as the sample size is reduced. Data was collected using an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system of landlines only.

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