Fox News Poll: Schools, economy driving close Virginia governor’s race

57 percent of Virginia parents think they should get a say in what schools teach

Virginia voters give better personal ratings to Democrat Terry McAuliffe than Republican Glenn Youngkin -- and that gives McAuliffe an edge over Youngkin in the Virginia governor’s race. The closeness of the contest is driven by Youngkin’s competitiveness on the economy and schools.

McAuliffe’s support stands at 51 percent to 46 percent for Youngkin, according to a Fox News survey of Virginia likely voters.  That puts the race within the poll’s margin of sampling error. 

This is the first likely voter survey Fox News conducted this cycle, meaning there can be no apples-to-apples comparison to Fox’s September Virginia survey.

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McAuliffe is the preferred candidate among Black voters (by 63 points), moderates (+36), urban voters (+30), suburban women (+17), and parents (+10).

Youngkin is the choice among White evangelical Christians (by 44 points), rural voters (+25), White voters without a college degree (+25), White men (+12), and seniors (+8).

"Breaking 50 percent is certainly significant for McAuliffe, but he’s not in a position to set the cruise control," says Democratic pollster Chris Anderson who conducts the Fox News Poll with Republican Daron Shaw.  "Youngkin supporters are somewhat more interested, which could energize a late surge and close the gap if McAuliffe backers become complacent or lack motivation to show up on Election Day."

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The implications of the race for the 2022 midterm elections are leading the Democrats to pull out the big guns:  former President Barack Obama and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden are among those set to campaign for McAuliffe in the final three weeks of the race.  Absent from the roster so far is President Joe Biden, who last campaigned for McAuliffe in July.

Youngkin stayed away from a "Take Back Virginia" rally on Wednesday where former President Donald Trump phoned in to promote the businessman. Trump endorsed Youngkin but has yet to campaign with him.

Virginia voters are 10 points more likely to approve of Congressional Democrats (44 percent) than Congressional Republicans (34 percent), which may give McAuliffe a boost. Still, majorities dislike both sides of the aisle:  52 percent disapprove of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans.

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McAuliffe receives stronger support among voters who approve of Democrats (91 percent) than Youngkin receives from those who approve of Republicans (80 percent).

Voters split over Biden’s performance: 50 percent approve vs. 49 percent disapprove. They have nearly the same views of Biden personally: 50 percent favorable, 48 percent unfavorable. The president won the state by 10 points last year.

McAuliffe’s personal ratings are in positive territory by a net +8 (52 percent favorable vs. 44 percent unfavorable). Youngkin is in the green as well, by a smaller +3 margin (48 percent favorable vs. 45 percent unfavorable).

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Views of current Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam are also barely favorable, receiving a net +2.

Trump is underwater by 9 points (44 percent favorable vs. 53 percent unfavorable).

More voters think McAuliffe would do a better job handling the coronavirus pandemic than Youngkin (48-36 percent). The opposite is true on guns:  38 percent McAuliffe vs. 44 percent Youngkin. Views split on the economy (43 percent each).

"Republicans usually do better than Democrats on the economy, yet they are viewed equally here and that does not bode well for the Republican businessman," says Anderson.

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And education, a historically Democratic issue unexpectedly pushed to the forefront of the race, also sees a divided electorate: 45 percent say McAuliffe is the better choice, while 43 percent say Youngkin.

Education has been a major talking point for Youngkin, but it’s McAuliffe who stirred the pot in the final debate saying, "I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach."

Virginia voters disagree.  By a 10-point margin, voters think parents should tell schools what to teach (50 percent should-40 percent should not). That increases to 23 points among parents (57-34 percent).

Overall, 40 percent don’t think parents should have that kind of power.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL POLL RESULTS

Virginia parents are unsure, however, who would better handle the issue of schooling:  41 percent say McAuliffe vs. 42 percent Youngkin.  Still, despite the uncertainty, parents are more likely to support McAuliffe over Youngkin in the race (53-43 percent).

"McAuliffe's statement during the debate that parents 'should not be telling schools what to teach' has served to re-frame the traditional education debate," says Shaw. "For many, it's now about parental involvement rather than funding and that helps Youngkin."

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Voters who think parents should have a say go for Youngkin by 46 points while those who disagree go for McAuliffe by 61 points.

Conducted October 10-13, 2021 under the joint direction of Beacon Research (D) and Shaw & Company (R), this Fox News survey includes interviews with 1,004 Virginia registered voters and 726 likely voters randomly selected from a statewide voter file, who spoke with live interviewers on landlines and cellphones. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 for the likely voter sample.