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Virginia Governor: The Undecided Masses

With Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial primary just a few days away, a new poll from Suffolk University confirms one thing we know for sure about this race: there are a lot of undecided voters.

The new poll, conducted using live interviewers, adds to the stack of polling showing a large chunk of the potential electorate has not yet made up their mind on the contest, and those who express an opinion are fairly evenly divided, with no one candidate holding a statistically significant lead. More than one-fifth, 22 percent, of likely Democratic primary voters in the Suffolk poll said they are undecided, and half of those who did express support for a candidate said they are very or somewhat likely to change their minds before Tuesday's vote, meaning a combined 61 percent are uncertain of their vote.

Overall, the three candidates run nearly evenly: former state senator Creigh Deeds at 29 percent, former DNC chair and Clinton campaign veteran Terry McAuliffe at 26 percent and former state representative Brian Moran at 23 percent. But there is more air between the candidates among the 37 percent who said they are unlikely to switch candidates before Tuesday's vote. Deeds holds a slight lead among that group, 44 percent back him, compared with 34 percent who favor McAuliffe and 23 percent who back Moran.

Beyond the vote question, Suffolk's polling adds some much needed issue context and finds voters even less certain in their views of the candidates' attributes and abilities to handle the state's top problems than they are on the question of whom they support. Nearly half (48 percent) of likely voters were undecided on which of the three candidates could successfully address Virginia's transportation challenges and four in 10 (39 percent) weren't sure which had the best leadership skills to steer the commonwealth's economy in the right direction. Four in 10 were undecided on which of the three had the most experience to be governor (40 percent) or cares most about the problems of people like you (41 percent).

The high numbers of undecideds found in polling on this race - reputable and otherwise - may stem partly from the difficulty pollsters face in identifying likely voters. For this poll, Suffolk started from a registered voter list, asked those registered voters they reached how likely they were to vote and required that those voters be able to correctly name the primary date (including those who said June 9, next Tuesday or next week). But without an exit poll Tuesday, we'll be unlikely to know whether this poll has done a better job than any other at pegging likely voters; take it with the requisite grain of salt.

This poll was conducted by telephone June 1 through June 3 using live interviewers. Results include responses from 500 likely voters and have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. Error margins are larger among subgroups.

UPDATE: Another poll out today, this one from Research 2000 for the liberal blog Daily Kos, also finds the race near even with a large number of undecideds - Deeds at 30 percent, Moran at 27 and McAuliffe at 26 with 17 percent undecided - but adds one thing the Suffolk poll does not have: trend. In late May, the same poll found a vastly different race, with McAuliffe at 36 percent, Moran at 22 and Deeds lagging behind at 13 percent, suggesting the tides are moving in Deeds' direction across the state (he's climbed 16 points in Northern Virginia, 18 points in the rest of the state) as Election Day closes in.

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  June 4, 2009; 12:45 PM ET
Categories:  Polls , Virginia  
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Creigh Deeds is not a "former" State Senator. He is still an elected official.

Posted by: dkgeroe | June 8, 2009 8:18 AM | Report abuse

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