AP VoteCast: Economy, COVID, schools top issues in Virginia

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The economy has been ranked as the most important issue facing Virginia as voters cast their ballots in the tight race for governor, with the coronavirus pandemic and education looming.

In the race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin, 34% of Virginia voters said the economy and jobs were the most important issue facing the state. Seventeen percent of COVID-19 names choose education, according to AP VoteCast, a voter poll.

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Health care (7%), climate change (7%), racism (5%), immigration (5%), abortion (5%), and law enforcement (4%) were all lower-level issues.

Tuesday’s election is the most watched and competitive contest since President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump last year, and is widely seen as a barometer of voter sentiment ahead of next year’s midterm elections.

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Here’s a glimpse of who voted and what mattered to them, based on preliminary results from the AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 2,500 Virginia voters conducted for the Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.

Is Virginia’s Economy Rising or Sinking?

Youngkin, a former private equity executive, asserted during the election campaign that Virginia’s economy was “in trouble,” but a majority of voters disagreed. 56 percent said the state’s economy is doing well, compared to 44 percent who said poor economic conditions.

Youngkin argued that Virginia’s record budget surplus was the result of tax exhaustion while campaigning on a promise to enact significant tax cuts.

McAuliffe countered that the surplus was due to strong economic growth under Democratic leadership and argued that Youngkin’s opposition to abortion rights and conservative stance on LGBTQ issues would hinder efforts to recruit new business in the Commonwealth.

With commodity costs rising, about two-thirds of Virginia’s voters in this year’s election say their family’s financial position is stable. That’s a similar percentage compared to voters in last year’s presidential race.

Another 16% say they are getting ahead financially, while 18% say they are falling behind.

A critical school debate for many

Schools have become a major focus of the governor’s race for Yongkin, which has localized a debate happening nationwide after McAuliffe said during a debate that parents should not “tell schools what they should teach.”

A quarter of Virginia voters say the controversy over teaching critical race theory in schools was the single most important factor in their vote for governor, but a similar proportion identified the controversy over the handling of COVID-19 in schools as the most important.

More voters said the Virginia public school system focuses too much, not too little, on racism in the United States, 43% versus 32%. Another 24% said it was right to focus on racism.

Most voters say they think racism in the United States is a serious problem, but less than half (44%) describe it as “extremely serious.”

About 6 in 10 Virginia voters support both mask mandates for teachers and students in K-12 schools and vaccine mandates for teachers.

More frequency for 2020

About 6 in 10 voters say they know all the time who they will support the governor’s race. In last year’s presidential race, three-quarters of Virginia’s voters said they knew all the time who they were coming back for, even though many decided to do so in the past few days.

About 3 in 10 voters now say they made a decision during the election campaign. Almost 1 in 10 said they were still making a decision in the past few days.

MCAULIFF takes more blame for attacks

Most voters believe the Governance campaign included unfair attacks from at least one candidate, but voters are somewhat more likely to say McAuliffe only unfairly attacked Yongkin than the other way around. Nearly 2 in 10 voters say they unfairly attacked each other.

Continuous discourse about the number of votes

Although Virginia had no major problems counting votes in 2020, only about half of Virginia’s voters are “very confident” that votes in the governor’s election will count accurately. 3 out of 10 voters are ‘somewhat confident’.

However, trust is stronger among voters now than voters in last year’s presidential election: only 25% said they were very confident that votes could be counted accurately.

Majority abortion rights

A majority of Virginia voters — about 6 in 10 — say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 4 in 10 say it should be illegal in all or most cases.

However, a majority of voters fall in the middle, supporting abortion in some but not all cases – a third of voters say abortion should be legal in most cases, and many say abortion should be illegal in most cases.

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AP VoteCast is a survey of American voters conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for Fox News and The Associated Press. The poll of 2,524 Virginia voters was conducted for seven days, and concluded with polls closed. Interviews were conducted in either English or Spanish. The survey combines a random sample of registered voters taken from the state’s voter profile with self-identified registered voters selected from unlikely Internet boards. The margin of error in sampling for voters is estimated to be plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. You can find more details about the AP VoteCast methodology at https://www.ap.org/votecast.

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