Republican and Democratic voters overwhelmingly supported their parties’ candidates in the gubernatorial race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin, according to the preliminary results of CNN’s Virginia exit poll, with independents breaking in favor of Youngkin, who CNN projected would clinch the win.
A similar partisan pattern held down ballot in key Virginia races, with CNN projecting Republican Winsome Sears as the next lieutenant governor of the state.
Youngkin also carried male voters in this year’s election by a roughly 12-point margin, White women without college degrees by about 50 points and White evangelicals by about 76 points — all broader margins than then-President Donald Trump posted over Joe Biden among those demographics in the 2020 election and than Republican Ed Gillespie posted over his gubernatorial rival in 2017. The early exit polling also suggests a slim advantage for Youngkin in the suburbs, an area that shifted toward Democrats during Trump’s presidency.
Voters’ views of McAuliffe are underwater, while their opinions of Youngkin are modestly positive. About three-quarters of voters — including similar shares of those backing each candidate — say they view their choice for governor as being more in support of their candidate than against his opponent.
Virginia voters in this year’s election hold negative views of both President Biden and Trump. Biden, who won comfortably in Virginia last year, now faces approval ratings significantly underwater in the state, with roughly 45% approving and the rest disapproving — likely a consequence both of his declining ratings since taking office, and the composition of the electorate that turned out to vote this year. Only about one-fifth of voters say they view their votes as a way to express support for Biden, with nearly 3 in 10 saying it’s a way to express opposition and the remaining half of the electorate saying Biden wasn’t a factor. Trump isn’t any more popular in the state: Only about 4 in 10 view him favorably.
Voters’ top issues
McAuliffe, in the final days of campaigning, had crisscrossed the state, casting its elections as a chance for Democrats to validate their eight years of leadership in the commonwealth by delivering Republicans and the former President a defeat ahead of critical 2022 and 2024 elections. Youngkin, meanwhile, leaned into local issues like education and fashioned himself as a champion for parental rights.
About one-third of Virginia voters called the economy the most important issue facing the state, placing it ahead of other topics that dominated headlines in the closing days of the race. Just under one-quarter said education is most important, about 15% chose taxes, about 14% chose the coronavirus pandemic and just about one-tenth chose abortion.
McAuliffe voters call the economy and coronavirus their top issues, followed by education. Among Youngkin voters, the economy is the top issue, followed by education and taxes.
Most voters take a positive view of Virginia’s economy, with about 55% rating it either excellent or good. About three-quarters of those with negative views of the economy backed Youngkin, with a slightly smaller share of those with positive views of the state’s economy voting for McAuliffe. Voters are closely divided over which candidate they trust to handle the economy: Roughly 40% trust only McAuliffe and about 43% trust only Youngkin, with the rest trusting both or neither.
National culture fights
National debates over masking and Covid-19 vaccine mandates charged the Virginia governor contest, with Youngkin having tapped into frustration with remote schooling for months during Covid-19 to get a hearing for his more partisan messages on the rights of parents to decide how their children are taught about America’s racial history.
Although early exit polling shows the pandemic isn’t at the top of voters’ concerns, they’re overwhelmingly likely to be vaccinated and a smaller majority are supportive of workplace vaccine mandates. The vast majority of Virginia voters, more than 8 in 10, say they’ve gotten at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and about 55% say they favor employers requiring their employees to get vaccinated.
McAuliffe holds a commanding lead among voters who call the pandemic the biggest issue. The small minority of unvaccinated voters overwhelmingly support Youngkin, while McAuliffe holds a more modest majority among vaccinated voters. More than 80% who back a workplace mandate favor McAuliffe, while nearly 9 in 10 of those who oppose it favor Youngkin.
In his closing argument to voters ahead of Election Day, Youngkin sought to center the national implications of the race, in part, on education.
Preliminary results of exit polling show that roughly half of Virginia voters say parents should have a lot of say in what their children’s schools teach, with about a third saying parents should have some say and a little over 1 in 10 saying they should have little or no say. That sentiment is even more pronounced among parents with children under 18, more than 60% of whom say parents should have a lot of say.
Roughly 6 in 10 Virginia voters say abortion should be legal in most or all circumstances. Just over half say that monuments to Confederate leaders on government property should be left in place; in the 2017 election, 57% of Virginia voters said such monuments should be left in place.
A different electorate
A narrow majority of voters say the Democratic Party is too liberal overall, while fewer call the Republican Party too conservative. About two-thirds of Democratic voters say their party’s ideology is about right, while about two-thirds of Republicans say the same of the GOP. Independents are less satisfied with either party, with just under one-quarter saying the Democratic Party is generally about right, and about one-third saying that of the GOP.
More than 80% of voters say they’re at least somewhat confident that votes in the state will be counted accurately, but slightly below half call themselves very confident. Democrats are roughly four times as likely as Republicans to say they’re very confident about election accuracy.
Virginia’s electorate in the governor’s race doesn’t look the same as it has in recent elections, the preliminary results also suggest.
Roughly 74% of the electorate is White, compared with about two-thirds in the 2017 governor’s election and the 2020 presidential election. The electorate is also older than it was a year ago — only about one-tenth are under 30, compared with 20% in 2020.
The Virginia CNN Exit Poll is a combination of in-person interviews with Election Day voters and telephone and online polls measuring the views of absentee by-mail and early voters. It was conducted by Edison Research on behalf of the National Election Pool. In-person interviews on Election Day were conducted at a random sample of 35 Virginia polling locations among 1,840 Election Day voters. The results also include 2,068 interviews with early and absentee voters conducted by phone, online or by text. Results for the full sample have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points; it is larger for subgroups.
This headline and story have been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
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