Lessons from the 2013 Cuccinelli Race

Exit Polling Analysis for 2013 VA Governor’s Race


For Republicans, a focus on the economy, Obamacare, positive messaging, strong fundraising, a strong campaign and avoidance of extremist labels seems to be a good move forward. The unmarried demographic, in particular females, also require careful attention. Other parties have major lessons to be learned here as well.

Key Points

  • Money, as always, is a critical factor in politics.

    • McAuliffe spent about $35 M and Cuccinelli about $18 M.

      • Cuccinelli’s advisor blames Jindal and the RGA for only spending about $3 M compared to 2009’s $9 M, while other consultants blame Cuccinelli for not working hard to “get the buy-in of the money crowd.”

  • The libertarian party may help Republicans.

    • Unexpectedly, Sarvis obtained 6.6% while 9-12% was expected.

    • Sarvis appeared to damage democrats more than republicans. This is supported by many stats, but one example is that he pulled 7% of self-described liberals while only pulling 3% of self-described conservatives.

    • Ron Paul’s late support of Cuccenelli may have capture right-leaning libertarians.

    • McAuliffe lost by 6% in the 18-24 age range, a demographic usually won by democrats. The young group was the libertarian’s key support demographic.

  • Obamacare and the economy are winning messages for conservatives.

    • There was a marked reversal in voter trends which corresponded with a media shift to a focus on the healthcare website fiasco. Cuccinelli was expected to lose by about 6-8%, but only lost by 2.5%, apparently due to this media shift.

    • 88% of voters are woried about the economy next year and the economy is still the largest issue by far. 45% of voters called the economy the most important issue.

  • Tea Party = extreme = major loss with moderate voters, and most voters considered themselves moderate.

    • This is one of two major Republican weakpoints.

    • Cuccinelli received 34% of the moderate vote while McAuliffe recieved 56%.

    • 44% of voters considered themselves moderates.

    • 42% of voters oppose the Tea Party movement, with only 28% supporting it.

    • Messaging on abortion, climate change and the government shutdown all also helped portray Cuccinelli as extreme.

  • The unmarried demographic is another key weak point for Republicans. Cuccinelli did better with married women than with married men! With the unmarried, however, Cuccinelli had double digit losses, including an loss of more than 40% with unmarried women.

  • Negative ads did not burn out voters or suppress turnout, at least not for democrats.

  • Interestingly, even moderates and liberals agree that government is doing too much. 52% of voters think that government is doing too much and these voted Cuccinelli more than 70% of the time.

  • Ethics was not a major factor for voters. McAuliffe was seen as less ethical.

    • Not only did Cuccinelli have less money for fewer total ads, the ads he did use contained messaging attacking McAuliffe’s character, which is not a major vote driver for nonconservatives. Those who said neither had character tended to McAuliffe by 18%.

  • McAuliffe’s campaign was seen as more strategic by minimizing his interaction with the media and running a great ground game, although the later may be once again attributed to funding.

Pundit Highlights

From Source: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/11/06/ken-cuccinelli-loses-narrowly-to-terry-mcauliffe-for-virginia-governor.html

  • Terry McAuliffe was elected Tuesday by a margin of 48 to 46 over Ken Cuccinelli, the state’s socially conservative attorney general. Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis drew just under 7 percent of the vote. The result was far closer than expected, as most public polls forecast a comfortable lead for McAuliffe.
  • In a brutally negative campaign, McAuliffe pulled out his narrow victory with a massive financial advantage and by painting Cuccinelli as an extreme social conservative. The Democrat also took advantage of Cuccinelli’s refusal to condemn the Republican tactics that led to the government shutdown. The issue was particularly potent in Northern Virginia, where many residents work for the government or for government contractors.
  • By contrast, Cuccinelli sought to focus on McAuliffe’s business deals and to turn the race into a referendum on Obamacare, which Cuccinelli has steadily opposed. While the strategy rallied ardent Republicans to his banner, it also may have energized some Democrats.
  • The presence of a strong libertarian candidate also played a significant role in the race. Cuccinelli had Ron Paul headline his election-eve rally, and the Republican nominee spent far more time ignoring suburban swing voters in favor of wooing disgruntled libertarians than would have been ideal. While Sarvis only ended up polling about 6.5 percent, he had polled at more than 10 percent at times.
  • The defection of many Republicans, particularly those in the donor class, helped McAuliffe put together a whopping financial advantage.
  • McAuliffe also put together a far more effective ground operation than Cuccinelli, led by veteran Democratic organizer Robby Mook. During the governor-elect’s victory speech, he bragged that his campaign had knocked on 2.5 million doors since January, and he went out of his way to praise his field staff.
  • McAuliffe said his own differences with Cuccinelli and the GOP were “differences of opinion, not differences of principle.” Even when McAuliffe was noting that Virginians supported his “mainstream approach,” he emphasized that he was following predecessors of both parties, including Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell.


From Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/11/06/winners-and-losers-from-election-night-2013/

  • Terry McAuliffe did something we never thought he would be capable of — he stayed extremely disciplined. McAuliffe relentlessly focused on his plans to bring jobs to the state while casting Ken Cuccinelli as an unstinting and unapologetic social conservative warrior. McAuliffe’s campaign, which severely limited his exposure to the media knowing his tendencies to, for lack of a better term, “be Terry,” also deserves a huge amount of credit for keeping him reined in. McAuliffe won for lots of reasons, but one of the big ones is that he ran a very steady and solid campaign — from manager Robby Mook to pollsters Fred Yang and Geoff Garin to media consultants Saul Shorr and Adam Magnus.
  • More than four in 10 voters in the Virginia exit poll identified themselves as moderate and McAuliffe won that group by 21 points over Cuccinelli. Half of the New Jersey electorate identified as moderates and Christie won them by 24 points. In each case, moderates proved decisive in the final margin.
  • ?Fairfax County is so large in terms of population that it has become virtually conclusive for Republicans statewide. Break even and you will almost certainly win. Let the Democratic nominee roll up somewhere between 57 percent and 60 percent and you almost certainly lose.
  • Cuccinelli won by seven points among voters who said the economy was the most important issue in their vote. Cuccinelli won by six points among voters who said health care was the most important factor in their vote. He lost by 25 points among voters who said that abortion was their key voting issue. The simple fact is that Cuccinelli let himself be defined as a warrior for social issues.
  • Cuccinelli won independents by nine points while Mitt Romney won them by 11 in Virginia and by five nationwide. Both candidates lost. Many independents may well be Republicans-in-hiding rather than true fence-sitters. Judging by Tuesday night’s results, moderates are the key swing group, not independents.
  • A majority of Virginia voters said that “government is doing too many things.” And this is in Virginia where the federal government is by far the biggest employer in electorally critical Northern Virginia. The antipathy toward government overreach is a message that Republicans nationally would do well to latch onto heading into 2014, particularly if the Obamacare rollout remains as rocky as it has been.


From Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/11/07/robert-sarvis-didnt-cost-ken-cuccinelli-the-virginia-governors-race/

  • Many Republicans blame Libertarian nominee Robert Sarvis for Cuccinelli’s loss.
  • That thinking is wrong according to exit polling by Edison Media Research. Cuccinelli would have gone from 45 percent to 46 percent. McAuliffe would have stayed at 48 percent.
  • The vast majority of Sarvis supporters said that if he were not in the race they simply wouldn’t have voted.


From Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/11/06/republicans-dont-have-a-women-problem-they-have-a-single-women-problem/

  • The real problem for Republicans going forward is not women broadly but single women in particular.

  • According to exit polls, Cuccinelli only lost female voters by nine points which is identical to the losing margin for Mitt Romney among women in Virginia in the 2012 presidential election.

  • Where Cuccinelli did get swamped, however, was among non-married women where he lost by a massive 42-point margin! While Romney didn’t fare that poorly in 2012, his 29-point loss among non-married women in Virginia was more than double his losing margin among women more broadly in the Commonwealth.

  • The fact that married women accounted for 35 percent of the overall electorate and Cuccinelli won them by nine points was more than offset by the fact that single women comprised 18 percent of the electorate and he lost them by six touchdowns.

  • On a similar note, Cuccinelli won married men by six points but lost single men by 25.

  • Republicans must find a way to close the marriage gap, in particular among women, if they want to be a majority party nationally in presidential elections.

From Source: http://www.wparesearch.com/barack-obama/about-last-night-in-virginia-and-new-jersey/

  • Some are using the dual facts of a Chris Christie win and a Ken Cuccinelli loss to make the typical point that moderate Republicans win and conservative Republicans lose. This article takes a different view.

  • Chris Christie won because he has an extraordinary personal brand and has done great things for his state. Christie demonstrates that how you talk about your views is more important than your views.

  • Cuccinelli didn’t lose because he was pro-life, but because he wasn’t good at communicating those beliefs in the right way to voters. Republicans ignore the “war on women” theme at their own peril. The problem is our inability to explain our pro-life principles in non-offensive terms.

  • Cuccinelli did as poorly as a Republican can do in terms of offering Democrats ammunition and in terms of fundraising and enabling a robust campaign and he still came close winning the race.

  • Cuccinelli closed what was between a six and 12 point gap in all of the late polls to around two points by focusing on Obamacare.

  • A majority of voters (53%) oppose Obamacare and this includes 41% who strongly oppose it. Opponents of Obamacare voted 81% for Cuccinelli.

  • These numbers in Virginia, home of many federal employees and much of which is dominated by the DC media are downright shocking. The real story is that the Democratic Party is going to have to continue to answer for an increasingly unpopular and massively impactful program that is their signature achievement of the decade. All Republicans need to do is communicate a bit better and drop an issue that we mistakenly thought would win us Catholics.

  • The shut-down was not a big issue in VA and won’t stick anywhere if not here.

From source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/liveblog-live/liveblog/live-updates-election-day-2013/?id=2581f6e5-ee39-4b0f-9109-b80405fc52f7

  • Data suggests an electorate more closely resembling the VA of 2012 than 2009. Early voters are more Democratic, less white and more highly educated than the final composition of the electorate in 2009.

  • 40% identify as Democrats and 30% identify as Republicans or independents. In 2009 Virginia exit polls, Republicans outnumbered Democrats by four percentage points, 37 to 33 percent. In the 2012 election, Democrats outnumbered Republicans in Virginia by seven points, 39 to 32 percent.

  • About 70% of voters are white, 20% black and 4% hispanic. This mirrors 2012 for VA. In 2009, the racial balance stood at 78 percent white and 16 percent African American, according to exit polling.

  • About 20% describe themselves as liberal and about 35% identify as conservative. More than 40% identify as moderates. In 2009, the electorate was more clearly conservative, outnumbering liberals by more than 2 to 1, 40 to 18 percent. About 25% of early voters identify as white evangelical Christians, down from 34 percent in 2009 exit polls.

  • College graduates outnumbered non-graduates by nearly 2 to 1. Four years ago, that balance was more narrow, with voters with a college degree outnumbering non-college graduates by 54 to 46 percent, an educational mix that was repeated in 2012.

  • These are preliminary results from a poll of voters as they exited voting places in Virginia on Nov. 5, 2013. The poll was conducted by Edison Media Research for the National Election Pool, The Washington Post and other media organizations. Typical characteristics have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.

4 Key Idea Graphs

 Vote Results and Expected Results




Total Vote Share by Tea Party Favorability


 Vote Share for Cuccinelli by Gender and Marriage Status



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