Majority of U.Va. students support Ralph Northam over Ed Gillespie for governor

Nineteen percent of survey respondents remain undecided on which way to vote in next week’s election

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Ed Gillespie (left), Ralph Northam (center), Cliff Hyra (right)

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

With Election Day less than a week away, 19 percent of students say they are undecided on for whom they support in Virginia’s gubernatorial election. In a poll conducted by The Cavalier Daily, 53 percent of respondents indicated they would vote for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam if the election were held today, compared to 19 percent who would vote for Republican Ed Gillespie and four percent for Libertarian Cliff Hyra.

The Cavalier Daily poll was sent to a random sample of 5,000 students via email and was available for four days beginning Oct. 23. The survey garnered 991 responses and the margin of error for the survey was ± 3.2 percent. 

The support for Northam among University students is a trend that some polls have shown differs greatly from the rest of Virginia. Monmouth University’s most recent poll shows Gillespie and Northam deadlocked in a tight race, with 48 percent of likely voters supporting Gillespie and 47 percent supporting Northam (other polls conducted in October have shown varying results). 

Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said younger voters — such as those at a college campus — tend to be more Democratic-leaning. 

“As voters are older, they tend to be more Republican-leaning,” Skelley said. “It’s not always a perfect, one-to-one relationship, but it does tend to be more true than not, just on average. A university population of mostly 18- to 22-year-olds would very likely be more Democratic-leaning.”

Skelley said one reason for this may be because non-white voters are more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate, and the most diverse population in the United States is those under the age of 30. He also noted that, particularly among white voters, a college education is generally associated with a stronger Democratic lean. 

“The thing about U.Va., obviously the undergraduates don’t have a degree yet, but they are headed toward being college-educated voters, and I suspect that those trends apply to them to some degree,” Skelley said.

According to The Cavalier Daily’s poll, many students support their respective candidates based largely on party identification. Of the respondents who said they support Gillespie, 37 percent said the main reason behind their support was because he is the Republican nominee. An even larger proportion of Northam supporters — 42 percent — said they support him because he is the Democratic nominee.

First-year College student Rachel Walet said her survey response was mostly based on party identification because she wasn’t as familiar with the issues. 

“I think I picked it on the survey just because I’ve identified with the Republican Party in the past so it would have felt weird to mark a Democratic or Libertarian candidate,” Walet said. “So it’s just that party loyalty.”

First-year College student Tim Marsh shared a similar sentiment.

“The biggest thing for me is just party,” Marsh said. “I feel bad about that, but I’m from out-of-state so I haven’t done as much research on it because I’ve only been here for a few months.”

Skelley said voting primarily along party lines is very typical, especially because of the country’s current polarization.

“Partisan politics is very sharp in Virginia, as it is elsewhere, and polarization has made people more likely to identify one way or another,” Skelley said. “It’s not really a shocker to me that students would say, ‘Well, there’s a “D” by Ralph Northam’s name so I’m voting for him, there’s an “R” by Ed Gillespie’s name, and I’m a Republican so I’m voting for him.’”

Although party identification is a factor, 43 percent and 35 percent of the candidates’ supporters said the main reason behind their vote was because they liked Gillespie and Northam, respectively. Third-year College student Caroline Biondo said Northam was the candidate who best represented her.

“Another huge issue for me is women’s rights,” Biondo said. “Northam has come out in support of Planned Parenthood and legal abortion, things of that nature, that Gillespie has really just not aligned with my views.”

Fourth-year College student Ali Hiestand — a former chair of the College Republicans — said she is voting for Gillespie because she agrees with the policy proposals he has put forward during his campaign.

“I'm voting for Ed Gillespie because he's the only candidate in this race who has put forth 20 detailed and realistic policy proposals that will actually bring change to all Virginians in areas from economic growth, to criminal justice reform, to corruption in government to rising sea levels,” Heistand said.

Hyra, the race’s third-party candidate, has support from students despite low numbers in the polls. First-year College student Ethan Sullivan said although he knows Hyra won’t be elected, he feels Hyra’s the best person to cast his vote for.

“I identify as a Libertarian and just from the bottom line, he probably represents my views better than any of the other candidates,” Sullivan said. “I really want to cast my vote in conscience and send a message — more of a protest vote — about the lackluster candidates we’ve seen in recent years.”

Andre Hirschler, a first-year College student, also said he believes that voting for third-party candidates would help them to gain some recognition in a two-party system.

“It wasn’t so much a policy choice,” Hirschler said. “I mean, I didn’t totally disagree on his policies, I agreed with some of them and disagreed with others. It’s more of a useful means of breaking the bipartisan problem that America seems to have.”

Despite the fact that 76 percent of respondents know how they plan to cast their vote, 19 percent — the same percentage of respondents who support Gillespie — are still unsure of which candidate they support. 

Not only are older voters more likely to vote consistently from year to year, said Skelley — due to factors like wealth and stability — but overall political engagement tends to decrease following a presidential election, especially among younger voters.

“A stat I like to throw out to people is that 72 percent of registered voters in Virginia showed up for both the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections — nearly three quarters,” Skelley said. “But, only 43 percent of registered voters came out to vote in the 2013 gubernatorial election. Among the groups that are most likely to drop off are young voters.”

First-year College student Allan Horn said the primary reason he doesn’t know who he’s voting for is because he hasn’t yet researched the candidates and issues.

“It might just be because I’m a first-year and I’ve got a lot on my plate,” Horn said. “It feels kind of far off. I have more pressing things to worry about, I guess I could say. I tell myself that I plan to [do research] but whether I actually will is the question.”

Virginia’s gubernatorial election will be held on Nov. 7. 

Read this article translated in Chinese here

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