Days before Virginia votes, Fox News released a poll that shows Republican Glenn Youngkin ahead of incumbent Terry McAuliffe by 8 points. Let’s be clear about something: that’s bad. Here’s why.
In campaign terms, you scarcely want this sudden a jump, this late in the game, with as much coverage as Fox News’ latest poll is getting. It creates complacency amongst the voting public – especially on a gloomy weekend, weather-wise – about whether or not they need to go out and actually vote. Especially when many Democrats have already filed their early ballots or mail-in votes.
The unnatural spike in the RealClearPolitics average, below, may well be because of McAuliffe’s bizarre and disgusting position over transgender bathrooms and the cover-up of the rape of young girls at the hands of men in dresses. It also may well be a reaction to Obama and Biden’s snoozefest of engagement in the state over the past week.
But it also may be a dangerous outlier. And guarding against complacency derived therefrom is critical at this late stage. Everyone needs to go and vote, whether Youngkin is 8 or 18 points ahead on the eve of poll.
Let’s have a look at the data out of the Fox News poll, for a start.
Conducted between October 24-27th from a random sample of 1,212 Virginia registered voters contacted on landlines (310) and cellphones (902), the results have a margin of sampling error of ±2.5 percentage points. The poll was conducted under the joint direction of Beacon Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R) with the fieldwork conducted by Braun Research, Inc. of Princeton, NJ.
That’s the same Braun Research that misrepresented numbers so it looked like more people favored the impeachment of President Trump than actually did. That was just two years ago.
But less about Braun and Fox News’ recently, Paul Ryan-induced tendency to screw over the political right. Let’s look at their data.
From the outset the following stands out: Amongst “Likely voters”, 79 percent of Youngkin backers are “Extremely” interested in the race, while amongst the broader “Registered voters” sample, that number is 74 percent. Compare it with McAuliffe, 69 percent of whose Likely voters say they’re “Extremely” interested in this race compared to just 56 percent of the wider sample.
For McAuliffe, this seems like a disaster until you realize Democrats are decreasingly spending time riling up their base, and increasingly spending time on the industrialized process of early voting and mail-in ballots. These methods of voting – along with good old fashioned ballot harvesting – don’t require enthusiasm. They just need the party machine. It’s less Obama 2008, more Biden 2020.
That’s one of the reasons that the eight point lead, to me, seems optimistic.
When you take it back down to Registered voters, the men are separated by a single point. Sure, “Likely voter” indication is a more hopeful gauge, but that’s only if the calculable gulf between Likely and Registered means the same as it did prior to the pandemic. I’m not sure it does.
There has obviously been a shift towards Youngkin in the past few weeks. There’s no denying that. You can see it in the questions of who would handle different issues better.
On the pandemic, Youngkin has leapfrogged McAuliffe. Same on education, the economy, crime, and guns. In truth, the most revealing number in the poll is Joe Biden’s sinking approval ratings, which appear to be dragging down Democrats across the country with him.
But here’s where I worry about that 8-point-lead.
In the data about the Margin of Error for Subgroups, we learn that some critical groups have far larger margins of error attached to them than should make for comfortable reading.
While the error rate across the sample size is +/-2.5 percent, the rate for people Under 30 is +/- 7.5 percent.
The rate for people Age 65+ is +/- 5.5 percent. The error rate for those Moms is +/- 7.5 percent, and the rate for moderates is +/- 6.5 percent. Those are getting into uncomfortable territory in terms of reliability. Then look what happens when you look directly into Likely Voters who are supporting a candidate in the race:
- For black voters the margin of error leaps to +/- 8.5 percent;
- For moms it leaps to +/- 9 percent;
- For independents it goes to +/- 8.5 percent;
- and for self-identifying moderates it goes to +/- 8% percent.
Most campaign operatives will simply take what they want to see from a poll and ignore the underlying issues. Virginia can’t afford to do that. As much as I privately hope Youngkin is in fact ahead by double digits almost overnight, the likelihood is this poll is embellishing his lead, which means every single Virginia vote matters. Even if Fox News wants you to think it’s in the bag. Whatever their motivation for that might be.