Virginia Governor’s race 2013 – surprises

The governor’s race in Virginia was much closer than polls projected it would be and I expected it to be.  Particularly surprising is how well Ken Cuccinelli did considering the 2013 electorate was significantly less white (72% vs 78%), less white evangelical (27% vs 34%), more educated (61% college vs 54% college) and less Republican (-5 vs +4) than 2009.

The morning after the election, after an initial look at the results, I noted some other surprises too.

Married Women
Republicans generally do well with married women.  In 2012,  Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama by 7 points among married women in Virginia.  What surprises is that Ken Cuccinelli actually bested this margin among married women, beating Terry McAuliffe among this cohort by 8 points.  The Republican did better with married women than married men, winning them by 6 points.

What killed Ken Cuccinelli is losing unmarried women by 42 points compared with Romney’s 29 point loss among single women in Virginia.  Overall, Cuccinelli lost women by 9 points – far less than the final Washington Post poll indicated he might (-24).  Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (a social conservative) won women by 8 points so it is still true that when Republicans lose, it is very often because of women. Increasingly though, it is because of the huge margins Democrats accrue among single women.

Abortion:  Mostly legal
According to the exit poll, six in ten voters in Virginia favor keeping abortion legal.  Not surprisingly, among voters who say abortion should always be legal (27%), McAuliffe bests Cuccinelli 78%-14%.  However, among voters who say abortion should be mostly legal (a plurality of 33%), Cuccinelli was able to get 30% of their vote compared to 59% for McAuliffe.  Considering Cuccinelli’s hard line opposition to virtually all abortions, getting 30% among voters who generally favor abortion rights suggests McAuliffe’s nearly singular focus on this issue missed the mark with a chunk of voters for whom this issue was not preeminent and didn’t disqualify Cuccinelli for them.

Virginia’s regional divide
The New Republic’s Nate Cohn, who had very smart election night analysis on his twitter feed (@nate_cohn), highlighted that – politically – Virginia is three separate states and, in the end, these states voted quite differently.  As expected, Terry McAuliffe cleaned up by wide margins (62%-33%)  in the dense and progressive northern Virginia inner suburbs, but Cuccinelli edged McAuliffe   in the growing exurbs (48% – 46%) and McAuliffe got the same percentage (34%) in the western part of the state as did the losing Democrat Creigh Deeds in 2009.

I look forward to continuing to review the Virginia exit poll and think about the results, but they were not what I expected a week ago.




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