Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | November 6, 2013

What Happened with the Polling in Virginia?

2013 virginia gubernatorial election map

These are headlines from a few days ago:

  • The Washington Post (Oct. 30): “Three new polls show varying leads for McAuliffe in Virginia governor’s race”: “A Quinnipiac University poll finds McAuliffe (D) up by four percentage points among likely voters over Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R). The survey depicts a far closer race than a Washington Post/Abt-SRBI poll released Monday, which found McAuliffe with a 12 percentage-point lead over Cuccinelli among likely voters. … A Roanoke College poll shows a 15-point advantage for McAuliffe over Cuccinelli among likely voters with a corresponding partisan makeup of 36 percent Democratic to 27 percent Republican, similar to the Post/Abt-SRBI poll. A poll from Hampton University reports a six-point lead for McAuliffe among likely voters, with a narrow split of 35 percent Democratic and 33 percent Republican likely voter composition…

And here are some headlines for today:

  • Politico: “Recriminations after Ken Cuccinelli’s surprise showing”: “The Republican candidate’s surprise showing touched off a round of recriminations among the GOP’s conservative and moderate wings — between Republicans who say Cuccinelli’s strict profile on social issues antagonized critical middle-of-the-road voters and those who say a good conservative candidate was tossed overboard by his party leadership. A lopsided Democratic victory might have given moderates a clear leg up in that debate; instead, the battle between the two factions over what – if anything – needs to change is bound to rage on.”

So how did we go from 6-point and 12-point leads in polls a week or less before the election to a 2-point margin of victory in the final voting? What did the polls get wrong?

Nate Silver, why have you abandoned us?

Image Credit: 2013 Virginia Gubernatorial Election Map by Rockhead126, used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Source: Wikimedia Commons.



  1. Perhaps some people were embarrassed to be voting for Cuccinelli but did so anyway?

    • Possibly. Still seems strange.

      One working theory might be that some voters who were leaning toward the Libertarian candidate switched their votes to Cuccinelli on election day.

    • That makes more sense.

    • Both theories could be true.

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