As the major party candidates in the Virginia governor’s race prepare for the Sept. 19 televised debate, a Suffolk University poll shows Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie tied, with 42 percent supporting or leaning toward each. Libertarian Clifford Hyra is at 3 percent, and 12 percent are undecided. These swing voters will play a critical role in November.

And as the nation wrestles with a strategy to deal with Confederate statues in public places, 57 percent of Virginia voters want them to remain in place, while 32 percent support their removal. Voters were split by party and race on this question, with 61 percent of Democrats supporting removal and 91 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of independents opposed. Among black voters, 65 percent supported removal, while 67 percent of whites were opposed.

Debate lineup

Although Hyra is certified on the official ballot for governor, he was not invited to the Tuesday evening debate. Yet 67 percent of likely Virginia voters—spread across party lines, age categories, incomes, regions, races, and gender—said that Hyra should be included, compared to 16 percent who said he should not.

“Although most voters have never heard of Hyra, they still respect that any candidate who has gone through the process of getting on the Virginia ballot should be included in the debate,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston.

Among independent voters, Gillespie led Northam 40 percent to 26 percent, with Hyra at 7 percent, and 26 percent undecided. Gillespie led Northam 90 percent to 4 percent among Republicans, with 5 percent undecided, and Northam led Gillespie 90 percent to 2 percent among Democrats, with 6 percent undecided.

Offshore drilling & minimum wage

Nearly 52 percent of Virginians polled supported drilling for oil and gas off Virginia’s shores, while 35 percent are opposed.

They also favored raising the current $7.25-per-hour minimum wage in Virginia to $15 per hour, with 50 percent of voters supporting the adjustment and 44 percent opposed.

Turnout

A majority of Virginia adults did not vote in the 2014 midterm election either because they were not registered to vote or they were registered but didn’t go to the polls. When likely voters were asked why the turnout was so low, 17 percent cited “poor candidate choices,” 16 percent said the nonvoters probably feel like their vote doesn’t count, 16 percent blamed apathy, 8 percent said that nonvoters are not familiar with issues, 6 percent said that “promises not kept/don’t trust politicians.”

Of the nearly 6 million Virginia adults eligible to vote in the 2014 midterm election, only 2.2 million voted, according to the U.S. Elections Project. The previous year, 2.2 million Virginia voters cast ballots in the statewide election. In August 2012, Suffolk University/USA TODAY released a national poll of unregistered/unlikely voters examining the issues and preferences of the growing number of people who don’t vote every year. It was the only poll of its kind taken during that election year. The Suffolk University Political Research Center is again exploring the issue of voter turnout in its state and national polling.

Methodology

The field of 500 likely Virginia voters was conducted Sept. 13 through Sept. 17 using live telephone interviews of households where respondents indicated they were very or somewhat likely to vote in the November 2017 general election for governor. The margin of error is +/-4.4 percentage points at a 95 percent level of confidence. Marginals and full cross-tabulation data are posted on the Suffolk University Political Research Center website. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310, dpaleologos@suffolk.edu