Virginia gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe, left, and Glenn Youngkin.
Virginia gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe, left, and Glenn Youngkin.

McAuliffe leads in race for governor

As the margin widens in the governor’s race, the races for lieutenant governor and attorney general are narrowing.

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L. Douglas Wilder                        
Phone: (804) 827-0776

Robyn McDougle
Associate Dean of Research and Outreach                                 
Phone: (804) 721-6703

In the race to become the next governor of Virginia, 43% of likely voters would vote for Democrat Terry McAuliffe while 34% would vote for Republican Glenn Youngkin, according to a new statewide poll conducted by the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University. This widens McAuliffe’s lead over Youngkin from the Wilder School’s poll in August when he led by a much slimmer margin (40% to 37%). 

The poll featured landline and mobile telephone interviews conducted from Sept. 7-15 with a representative sample of 811 adults living in Virginia. It has a margin of error of 5.35%. When considering the likely voters only, the poll has a margin of error of 6.93%. 

With Election Day only six weeks out, a significant number of Virginia’s voters remain undecided or unwilling to vote for either candidate in each race. In the governor’s race, 23% of voters remain undecided or unwilling to vote for either candidate — the same percentage as the August poll. 

In the race for lieutenant governor, Democrat Hala Ayala lost some ground to Republican Winsome Sears in the past month, and her lead is now within the margin of error (33% to 30%). However, 20% of voters said that they would not vote for either candidate if the election were held today, while 16% remain undecided.   

Likewise, in the attorney general race, Democrat Mark Herring has lost ground to Republican Jason Miyares since the Wilder School’s August poll. Herring led by 11 points in August, while the current poll shows that his lead has dropped to 6 points (39% to 33%).  

“Our recent poll relative to the governor’s race and statewide elections showed interesting results,” said former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. “Neither McAuliffe nor Youngkin had 50% support. The increase in the undecided and those unable to commit for either is noteworthy. The poll was taken prior to any debates. How the candidates show the people what they propose dealing with the pandemic and its effects are obvious concerns. The narrowing of the lead by the Democratic candidates in the lieutenant governor and attorney general races and increased ‘undecided’ shows ‘the jury’ may be out awhile longer.” 

Poll respondents were also asked which party they would rather see in control of the Virginia General Assembly. All 100 House of Delegates seats are up for election in November, with Democrats currently holding a 55-45 advantage. Voters remained split on which party they preferred to control the chamber. Democrats had a slight edge over Republicans (43% vs. 39%, respectively), with 5% of voters undecided.  

In the gubernatorial race, Northern Virginia continued to favor McAuliffe (56% to 23%) as did the Tidewater region (41% to 31%). Youngkin leads in the west (49% to 23%). South central Virginia showed a small preference for McAuliffe (41% to 37%), and the candidates were tied in the northwest region at 42%. The largest percentage of undecided voters was in the west (17%). 

The lieutenant governor’s race has experienced some regional changes since August. Ayala maintained a sizeable lead in Northern Virginia (44% to 20%), but lost her lead in south central Virginia where results were within the margin of error (36% for Sears and 32% for Ayala). Sears widened her large lead in the western region of the state (41% to 21%), but lost her lead in the northwest, where voters were evenly split between Ayala and Sears (38% to 39%). Voters in the Tidewater region also remained evenly split, with 27% for Ayala and 26% for Sears.  

In the attorney general race, Herring maintained his sizable lead in Northern Virginia (44% to 26%), and grew his lead in Tidewater (45% to 30%), where voters were nearly split last month. Herring lost much of his lead in the south central region (36% for Herring and 35% for Miyares), while Miyares led in the west (43% to 26%). Voters remained split in northwest Virginia (40% for Herring to 36% for Miyares).   

President Joe Biden’s approval numbers have declined slightly since August, with 49% of Virginians saying they disapprove of how he is handling his job as president (up from 47% in August) and 46% saying that they approve (down from 51%). Uncertainty may play a role in this change, as 6% of respondents reported not knowing whether or not they approve, or choosing not to share their opinion (up from 2%). 

For the full poll results and analysis, visit