Last Minute VA Gov Poll Should Have Youngkin Cautiously Optimistic

AP Photo/Cliff Owen

The Trafalgar Group’s final VA Governor poll shows Youngkin up 2.3 over McAuliffe.  While I believe the poll to be accurate, sampling issues in the poll cause me to suggest cautious optimism over the results.

Toward the end of the 2016 Electoral Cycle, one polling firm stood out to me as one of the most interesting and accurate of the bunch: The Trafalgar Group.  The little-known polling firm was laughed at by many within the mainstream media and mocked as some right-wing joke of an outfit.  When Election Night 2016 came to an entertaining close, The Trafalgar Group emerged as the most accurate firm of the 2016 cycle.

While I have questioned the methodology and results of some polls they have done since then, much to the friendly chagrin of Robert Cahaly, Trafalgar’s Chief Pollster, I have consistently found Trafalgar’s work among the most accurate, and certainly the most “accessible” in the terms of talking to the people behind the polls for clarity.

In this most recent and final Virginia Governor’s poll, Trafalgar shows Glenn Youngkin, the Republican, leading Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat, by 2.3 points.  With the election held tomorrow, Youngkin’s lead should indicate a significant chance of victory, especially considering everything that Trafalgar got right with this poll.

As I stated above, since 2016, Trafalgar has always been at the top of my list for polling accuracy largely because their methodology and sampling achieves what I believe to be the most accurate result.  On this poll, that trend continues.  Their sampling on this poll, on everything except age (which I will get to in a minute), is spot on.  In 2017, a Gallup poll identified the party-split in Virginia, which does not register voters by party, as 45-38 favoring Democrats.  This poll, nearly identical.  Demographics for gender and ethnic heritage, also both are extremely accurate.  Furthermore, the sampling from Virginia’s 11 Congressional Districts seems relatively well split, not favoring any one area over another.  Geographic sampling issues can lead to inaccuracies, due to shifting priorities.  For instance, urban Democrats may be more liberal, while rural Democrats may be more moderate.  Should you oversample from a certain geographic area, it can cause those inaccuracies as many polls assume that party affiliation is the end of the factors that determine ideological priorities.  As a result of the near-perfection of the sampling and methodology, one could invest a lot of confidence in the accuracy of the poll.

Yet, while attempting to reach near-perfection, sometimes it becomes difficult to check all the boxes in demographics, with the struggle to find specific voters that meet the needs of the poll.  These trade-offs often lead to the excellent factors you see above, and the oversampling of other factors, which could lead to some inaccuracies.  In this particular poll, there are only two issues I find, and neither is enough to discount the poll in any way, and together potentially cancel one another out.

The first is that in this poll, 41.3 percent of respondents were between 45-61, despite only an estimated 23 percent of Virginia residents being from that age group.  Another 25.8 percent of respondents were 65+, despite only an estimated 11.2 percent of the population being from that age group.  Certainly, older voters are among the more likely, and therefore, having a bit of a lean in that direction is never a problem.  Why is that a problem?  Well, if it was just that older voters tend to vote more often, it would be fine, but older voters also tend to be more conservative, thus creating an ideological bias within the poll.  A bias like that in this poll could suggest that the race is much closer than a 2.3 percent lead, and maybe even tied or a slight Dem lead.

HOWEVER! (Hold on, Cahaly! Don’t kill me yet!)

This poll was conducted from October 29th through the 31st, a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  How is that significant?  Well on this poll, two things.  One is that those dates may help explain why Trafalgar was unable to contact more younger voters.  Younger voters tend to have families, and those families likely were not home much during not just a weekend, but a weekend that included Halloween.  It is completely understandable why it may have been difficult to include those voters in the sample.  While that doesn’t completely erase my concerns about the older voter oversampling, there is an issue that will: The Ole October surprise, and this one happened on the 29th.

As you may have read here at RedState (Our Bonchie covered it here) or elsewhere, a shocking sight of a group of White Supremacists at a Youngkin Rally, led many to believe that the Republican’s chances for a victory were sliding away.  That was until, those same white supremacists, including a Clayton-Bigsby-looking fellow (bonus points if you get the reference), were all identified as VA Democrat staffers.  After chaos ensued, and denials of involvement from the campaign and the party, the losers at the Lincoln Project came out to claim credit for the alleged “demonstration.”  While I and others still question how the Lincoln Project had access to staffers from both the campaign and the party (a potential campaign finance violation), the damage still fell hard on McAuliffe’s campaign.  As a result, this failed stunt could very well cause a significant slide toward Youngkin.  Some of the polling may have been conducted before certain respondents provided their answers, and some of the polling may have not included younger voters who had opinions swayed by the blunder.

If anything, any potential issue with the poll not accounting for some more liberal voters (due to age sampling) is washed by the Democrat’s failed white supremacist stunt.  It may even eliminate any concerns I had about the age sampling to give Youngkin even a slight advantage.  Time will tell.

As a result of the poll’s fantastic methodology and with my two concerns washing out, I give this poll a solid A grade.

Now, if only Cahaly’s Braves can pull off a win in the World Series, he might just have a very good week! (And that’s coming from a very sore Dodger fan!)