A new poll released by the Monmouth University Polling Institute shows that the race to become Virginia's next governor is statistically tied, with Republican Ed Gillespie holding a one-point lead over Democrat Lt. Governor Ralph Northam.For much of the year, Democrat gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam has held a significant lead over Republican Ed Gillespie. However, the last three polls released show that the race to become Virginia's next governor is neck-and-neck. Going into Wednesday, Real Clear Politics' average of polls showed Northam held a 3.5-point lead over Gillespie, well within the margin of error. This is mostly due to a Monmouth University poll put out on Tuesday showing Gillespie actually one point ahead of current Lt. Governor Northam, 48-47. By comparison, Monmouth University's September poll showed Northam leading Gillespie 49-44. You can read the full results and methodology for Monmouth University's latest poll here.
Patrick Murray, Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, released a statement explaining the new poll's results.
This has never been more than a five-point race in Monmouth's polling, and that means either candidate has a very real shot at winning this thing. We have seen lots of little movement that has either helped or hurt each candidate but with neither one being able to break out."In 2016, Virginia was listed as a swing state during the presidential election. While early election day returns suggested that the presidential race in Virginia would be close, Hillary Clinton ended up defeating Donald Trump by more than five percentage points, though she fell short of winning a majority of the votes. While the 2016 presidential election in Virginia saw a massive 72 percent turnout among registered voters, off-year elections tend to have much lower turnout levels. Traditionally, turnout in Virginia's off-year elections tend to favor Republican candidates. For example, while Barack Obama received almost 1,922,000 Virginia votes in the 2012 election, Governor Terry McAuliffe received just 1,069,789 votes the following year and only won re-election by a margin of 56,435 votes. If these trends hold true, this November's gubernatorial contest will be much tighter than 2016's presidential election. This has led political strategists to disagree over how to move forward with campaigning in the final stretch leading up to election day on November 7. Chief among these debates is whether or not each candidate should campaign alongside their party's most recent presidents. Former-President Barack Obama will hit the campaign trail this week on behalf of the Northam campaign, hoping to encourage Democrat voters to turn out like they did when he won the state in both 2012 and 2016.
The Gillespie campaign has had help so far from Vice President Mike Pence, but the campaign's staffers are unsure of whether to bring President Donald Trump into the race as well. While President Trump's presence on the campaign trail will likely increase Democrat turnout in Northern Virginia's cities, he would also likely bolster turnout for Ed Gillespie in rural parts of western Virginia. Pro-Gillespie polling results in rural areas of Virginia, in addition to tightening seen along the Virginia shore, were responsible for Gillespie taking the lead in this latest Monmouth University poll. Ultimately, the decision over whether to invite President Trump onto the trail will depend on whether or not the Gillespie campaign believes they stand to gain more votes in the western and eastern parts of Virginia than they would lose in the D.C. suburbs. While the Gillespie campaign is currently unsure over whether to welcome the President onto the campaign trail, they have relied on many of the same issues and positions that were considered pillars of the Trump 2016 presidential campaign. For example, the Gillespie campaign has elevated MS-13, a criminal gang made up primarily of illegal immigrants, as a major issue in this year's race. While practically every poll shows the Virginia gubernatorial race tightening in the lead up to election day, a Quinnipiac poll released early Thursday morning showed Northam with a 14-point lead over Gillespie. While this poll is likely an outlier, it only further demonstrates that this year's gubernatorial race will likely be decided by turnout.