Published November 04, 2009
Continuing a trend that has lasted for more than three decades, Virginia voters on Tuesday again elected a governor from the opposite party as the president.
Republican Robert McDonnell's victory over Democrat Creigh Deeds came mainly from an energized base and an electorate that looked significantly different from the one that brought Democrats a win in last year's presidential race in Virginia for the first time since 1964.
Young people and Democrats made up a smaller portion of today's voters than in 2008, while more Republicans and conservatives went to the polls – and it made a difference.
Last year, about one of five voters – 21 percent of the electorate – was under age 30, while today that dropped to 10 percent. And Deeds received only 44 percent of the vote among young voters, while last year Barack Obama received 60 percent of the vote. A 54-percent majority of young voters went for McDonnell.
And while party loyalty was fairly even, with both candidates capturing more than 9 of 10 of their party's vote, Republicans made up a larger segment today. Some 37 percent of voters today self-identify as Republican, up from 33 percent last year. Democrats made up 33 percent of the electorate today, down from 39 percent.
In addition, independent voters were more likely to back the Republican in the governor's race: 66 percent for McDonnell and 33 percent Deeds. Last year independents split their vote for president almost evenly down the middle.
Top Issues to Virginians
Virginia voters cite the economy as the most important issue in deciding their vote for governor today (47 percent), followed by health care (24 percent), taxes (15 percent) and transportation (7 percent).
Economy voters broke for McDonnell over Deeds by 57 percent to 42 percent. The Republican also comfortably won those picking taxes as the top issue (by 84-16).
Deeds had a slim edge among health care voters (51-49), and overwhelmingly won those few voters who said transportation was the top issue in deciding their vote (84-16).
Fully 85 percent said they are worried about the direction of the nation's economy, down just three percentage points from 88 percent last year. Furthermore, 53 percent said they are “very” worried about the economy, and those voters were much more likely to back McDonnell over Deeds (76-23 percent).
A 61 percent majority of Virginians said McDonnell (61 percent) shares their values, compared to 47 percent who said the same of Deeds.
Furthermore, while a third said McDonnell's positions on the issues are too conservative (33 percent), more voters -- nearly half -- said Deeds is “too liberal” (47 percent).
McDonnell's 1989 graduate school thesis, which expressed outdated social views on working women and gays, was an issue during the campaign. Most Virginians, 65 percent, said McDonnell's thesis did not affect their vote. Some 22 percent said the thesis made them less likely to vote for McDonnell.
McDonnell's thesis did hurt him among women. The Republican won the vote among women by 54 percent to 46 percent. In fact, Deeds captured less of the women than Obama did last year (53 percent).
Working women – 28 percent of voters today – even preferred McDonnell over Deeds by a slim 51 percent to 48 percent margin.
Deeds was perceived as the candidate who was on the attack -- 65 percent of voters thought he made unfair attacks during the campaign. Just over half – 51 percent – thought McDonnell attacked Deeds unfairly.
The Obama Factor
First, 88 percent of Virginians who say they voted for Obama last year voted for Deeds today. Some 12 percent of Obama voters defected to the Republican and supported McDonnell.
All in all, 48 percent of Virginia voters approve of the job Barack Obama is doing as president, and 51 percent disapprove.
Most of those approving of Obama's job performance backed Deeds (80 percent). Those disapproving backed McDonnell by 94-5.
Even so, most voters said the president wasn't a factor in their vote for governor. A 56 percent majority said their vote today was not about Obama. For those sending a message with their vote for governor, 17 percent said they were sending a message of support for Obama, while 24 percent said it was to express opposition.
Edison Research conducted this exit poll for FOX News and interviewed 2,126 voters as they left randomly selected polling places in Virginia.