The final Virginia governor polls show Democratic Lt. Governor Ralph Northam has a slight edge over Republican Ed Gillespie. But recent history indicates this race will be a nail-biter and the likely winner is uncertain.
There’s no doubt the Old Dominion for years has started to look and vote like the New Dominion, as immigration and migration — along with wealthy whites — have turned it from a once reliably Republican state to a battleground state, at best.
In fact, of all the battleground states the Big Data Poll constructs likely voter profiles in, Virginia is the one and only to show Democratic gains. The PPD Battleground State Likely Voter Metrics now give Democrats a partisan voting edge of D+4, up from +2.4 gauged last year.
Nevertheless, the record of polling inaccuracy in the Commonwealth indicates Lt. Gov. Northam has no reason to be overly optimistic about his current 3.3% lead on the Real Clear Politics average. UPDATE: Lt. Gov. Northam’s lead is now down to 3.2%.
In off-years, voter turnout in the Commonwealth of Virginia declines significantly and the electorate can be very difficult to project, giving pollsters little room for error.
Let’s take a look at that disparity and see how well (or, rather poorly) pollsters have performed.
As we can see, the drop off is significant and, historically, pollsters haven’t done a particularly good job adjusting for this. Worth noting, Mr. Gillespie himself has been underrepresented in the surveys, far more than the previous gubernatorial contest.
Virginia Governor – McDonnell vs. Deeds (2009)
When former Governor Bob McDonnell won in a landslide in 2009, he was still underrepresented by 4.1%.
Virginia Governor – Cuccinelli vs. McAuliffe (2013)
Polls missed the mark in 2013 with an average error of D +3.5%, which would give Mr. Gillespie the win tomorrow in a squeaker if duplicated. However, pollsters didn’t show improvement the next election cycle. They got worse.
Virginia Senate – Gillespie vs. Warner (2014)
Polls really blew it in 2014 with an average error of D +8.9%, which would give Mr. Gillespie a comfortable win tomorrow if duplicated.
Overall, polls overrepresented Democrats in the two most recent non-presidential election cycles by an average 6.2 points (D +6.2%), which would still be little more than a more comfortable squeaker for Mr. Gillespie. The average error for the last three is D +5.5%, also putting Lt. Gov. Northam’s lead in question.
(Please note: This article will be updated more throughout the day.)