Democrat McAuliffe faces 52% unfavorable numbers in Va. the gubernatorial race, shows preliminary data from the polls

A tighter split electorate than a year ago, underwater ratings for both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, and a Democratic candidate’s popularity deficit define the hard-fought, off-year competition for Virginia’s governor in the preliminary exit results.

Among the challenges for the Democrats – who have won all statewide races in Virginia since 2013 – is the lack of personal appeal from their candidate: former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Only 45% see him positively, against 52% unfavorably, in exit poll results so far. Republican Glenn Youngkin performs better on this score, 53-43%, favorably-unfavorably.

Among McAulife’s challenges are negative views on Biden’s job performance; more Virginia voters reject than approve, 54-45%. The intensity that can affect turnout is particularly bad for Biden: Almost twice as many reject “strongly” his work in office, 45%, than strongly approve, 24%.

Based on these views, turnout has changed from a year ago. Virginia voters report having split equally between Biden and Trump in 2020, 46-46% – indicating that many Biden supporters were out in this contest when he won the state by a margin of 10 points.

Trump, on the other hand, is no longer an attraction: he is seen positively by 42% in these preliminary results, unfavorable by 53%, a negative score of 11 points. Youngkin kept Trump at arm’s length in the campaign, and so did McAuliffe with Biden (save two joint campaign meetings), for reasons that seem obvious.

These are preliminary exit poll results, including early voters, and may change as data is updated during the evening.

The race is seen as an early test of democratic vulnerability under Biden for the midterm elections of 2022. Several Virginia voters say one reason for their vote was to show opposition to Biden (29%) rather than support for him (21%). Still many more, 47%, say he was not a factor in their choice of governor.

Regarding preliminary exit poll estimates among constituencies:

The suburbs are an important battleground in Virginia, as elsewhere. A large group – they account for more than six out of 10 voters – suburbs tip slightly against Youngkin in the preliminary exit results, 53-47%.

Robust voter turnout from college-educated voters is a factor for McAuliffe. College graduates account for 49% of voters in the preliminary exit poll results, a 6-point increase from last year’s presidential election, and McAuliffe wins 58% of this group. Youngkin, on the other hand, is doing well among those without a college degree and is doing better than Trump a year ago.

Youngkin may have done himself a favor by keeping Trump at a distance. Among the majority of Virginia voters who have an unfavorable opinion of Trump, 2 out of 10 vote for Youngkin regardless. About half as many Biden dissidents support McAuliffe, 9 percent.

Youngkin made education a central element of his campaign, arguing for parental input and against critical race theory. Only fewer than a quarter of voters choose education as the most important issue in their vote – second only to the economy – and Youngkin wins them by 56-44% in these preliminary results.

This is the first election in which Virginia has offered early personal voting, from mid-September to Saturday, and the exit poll estimates that 27% of voters took advantage of it – a group in which McAuliffe won 57%, opposed by strong results for Youngkin among Election Day voters.

Youngkin wins 87% of white evangelical voters, the largest proportion of white evangelicals for a Republican in Virginia in data from the exit poll at the gubernatorial or presidential election, dating to 2008. They make up more than a quarter of voters.

Voters’ criticism extends to the major parties in general, indicating more vulnerability for the Democratic Party – 52% call it liberal – than for the Republican Party, called too conservative by fewer, 43%.

On specific issues, voters themselves are not so easy to categorize. 58 percent of these preliminary results are in favor of legal abortion and 54 percent support employer mandates for coronavirus vaccines, both closer to McAulife’s views than Youngkins. On the other hand, 54% say that monuments to Confederate leaders on government property should be left in place.

Youngkin sought to make parental involvement in school curriculum a key issue, which struck a chord; 53% of voters say parents should have “a lot” of influence on what their child’s school teaches.

Voters are divided on the choice of the five most important questions Virginia faces: economics and jobs (33%), education (23%), taxes (15%), the pandemic (14%) and abortion (9%). It is noteworthy that the economy is ending up as the biggest problem, although 56% rate it positively – and also that the pandemic is tracking as a major concern.

Youngkin, a former private equity director, and McAuliffe run close in confidence to handle the economy, 42-40% in these preliminary results. Youngkin opens a 4-point edge in dealing with crime, 42-38%; McAuliffe countered with a 7-point lead in confidence to handle the pandemic, 43-36%. None of them approaches majority preference on any of these, given the number who trust both or neither of them.

The survey, conducted for ABC News and its media partners, includes interviews conducted both before election day to capture the views of early and absent voters and among personal voters today. The results will be adjusted to reflect the official results after the votes have been counted.

In an additional potential turnout, white virgins account for 74% of voters in the results of the exit polls so far, compared to 67% in 2020, when Trump won them by 8 percentage points. Members of racial and ethnic minority groups make up 26% of voters in these data, compared to 33% last year, when Biden won them by as many as 53 points. That said, minority voters accounted for roughly the same share of the turnout, 28%, when McAuliffe won the governorship in 2013.

Preliminary data show that there is a shortage of young voters and a surplus of those aged 65 and over. Yet another shift suggests a potentially higher turnout in the more Republican-leaning central and mountainous areas of the state. And one region turned – Richmond / Southside, from +14 for Biden in 2020 to +6 for Youngkin in those results.

In partisan preferences, Democrats and Republicans are equally matched, 35-35% in these preliminary results, with independents – probably the decisive group – making up the rest.

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