New Poll Has Northam With Wide Lead Over Gillespie in Va. Governor's Race

WASHINGTON — A new Washington Post/Schar School poll says Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam leads Republican challenger Ed Gillespie 53 to 40 percent in next month’s Virginia gubernatorial election among likely voters.

It is a far wider lead than other polls had found recently and the first to put the Democrat’s lead at a double-digit margin over Gillespie.

“If that’s what actually held and Northam won by 13 points, it would be a pretty smashing victory for him,” Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia, said Thursday. “Most of the other polls in this race — and I think the opinions of the two campaigns probably — don’t see the lead in the race as that big of a lead for Northam.”

Kondik said most polls have had the race showing a slight lead for Northam, with the margin in the low single digits.

However, there is always a chance that this could be the beginning of a new trend in the race, he said.

“The party that doesn’t hold the White House can often be more motivated to turn out in these off-year elections,” explained Kondik, which could mean seeing results similar to what happened nationally in 2010.

His colleague Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, wasn’t buying the results of The Washington Post poll, tweeting that the numbers should be looked at skeptically.

Kondik said that variance in poll numbers is a good thing.

“You don’t necessarily want there to be a herd mentality among pollsters in which they all try to match each other and they end up missing the trend,” Kondik stated.

The Virginia governor’s race was seen as one of the first barometers of the new White House administration, but voters have not taken great interest in the race.

Among registered voters, 58 percent say they are watching the race closely, while 41 percent say they are not watching it closely.

Interest is down about 20 percent compared to the last gubernatorial race in the final weeks of the campaign. In an October 2013 poll asking the same question, 79 percent of registered voters said they were watching that gubernatorial race closely.

Along with respondents favoring Northam in this election, 44 percent view him favorably while only 38 percent said the same of Gillespie.

Top issues for registered voters in this poll were health care and the economy, followed by education and illegal immigration. Only 3 percent said Confederate monuments were most important.

Much of the interest in the gubernatorial race has been drawn away by news consistently coming out of the White House. But a majority of respondents — 54 percent — say President Donald Trump is not a factor in their vote. Roughly 28 percent say they will vote to express opposition to the president while 17 percent will vote to express their support.

The poll also asked about the president. Almost 60 percent of respondents disapproved of the job he was doing — only 33 percent approved. And 60 percent say their opinion of Trump has become more negative since he took office — 26 percent said the opposite.

The Washington Post/Schar School poll was conducted between Sept. 28 and Oct. 2. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percent for registered voters and 4.5 percent for likely voters.

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