VA-GOV: Deeds Dominating Among Unlikely Voters

If you want to measure Democrats' motivation problem in Virginia, it's helpful to think about a little-discussed category in polling: the unlikely voter. Polls, ...
by | August 18, 2009
 

If you want to measure Democrats' motivation problem in Virginia, it's helpful to think about a little-discussed category in polling: the unlikely voter.

Polls, of course, sometimes measure the opinions of all adults, sometimes only measure responses of registered voters and sometimes focus exclusively on those who the pollster determines are likely to vote.

Invariably, when a pollster measures likely voters some registered voters don't make the cut (because they say they don't plan on voting, because they haven't voted in recent elections, etc.). Those are unlikely voters, though I've never heard a pollster call them that. In fact, you'll almost never hear pollsters talk about this group of registered voters, which is a shame because looking at unlikely voters is a good way to determine who isn't motivated to turnout in an election.

The Washington Post polled the Virginia governor's race last week and found what other pollsters have been finding. Republican Bob McDonnell has a big lead over Democrat Creigh Deeds.

Helpfully, the Post released polling numbers among both likely voters and registered voters. McDonnell leads 54%-39% among the 601 likely voters who were sampled. His lead is more modest, 47%-40%, among all 868 registered voters the Post sampled.

Based on those numbers, it takes just a little bit of simple math to extrapolate the views of the 267 unlikely voters in the Post poll. The results, based on my calculations, are 42% for Deeds, 31% for McDonnell and 27% undecided. Finally, some good news for Deeds: He enjoys a double-digit lead among unlikely voters.

That, to me, is the strongest indication yet that Virginia Democrats are unmotivated after their victories in recent years. The danger for the party is that if Democrats, uninterested in the gubernatorial race, don't show up, a modestly good Republican year could turn into a landslide up and down the ballot.

Control of the state House of Delegates is up for grabs and Democrats were very optimistic about winning the attorney's general race (and somewhat optimistic about the lieutenant governor's race) until a couple of months ago.

Deeds' deficit among registered voters is evidence he needs to persuade more Virginians that he will make the best governor. Still, his biggest challenge (and the one most relevant to the rest of the Democratic ticket) is persuading people who are predisposed to think he will make the best governor to actually vote. Getting unlikely voters to the polls isn't impossible, but it is, well, unlikely.

--Josh Goodman

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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