Bearing Drift Poll: McAuliffe 35.5, Cuccinelli 35, Sarvis 10.8

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The Bearing Drift/Conquest Communications poll on the gubernatorial race finds Democrat Terry McAuliffe at 36, Republican Ken Cuccinelli at 35 and Libertarian Robert Sarvis at 11 percent, with nearly 19 percent of likely voters undecided. The poll’s margin of error is five points and the partisan split is 35.5R/30.5D/3.8L/27.8I/2.5 “other.”

The split here diverges from other polls, which have assumed the 2013 electorate will look far more like it did in the 2012 presidential year than has historically been the case for Virginia’s off-year elections. Recall that in 2009, that electorate was +4 Republican over Democrat.

Even with a more traditional off-year split, the race is a statistical tie. That’s a bad headline for the Cuccinelli campaign. Deeper inside the numbers, though, we see some of the reasons why, at least according to this polling snap shot, the race is still up for grabs.

Neither Cuccinelli nor McAuliffe has locked-up the party vote. Just over 29 percent of Democrats remain undecided, and 24 percent of Republicans are, too. Independents are even more so, with 37 percent of them having yet to make up their minds on any of the three candidates. This indicates that either the unhappiness with the choices is profound, or that, despite the millions spent on the major party races so far, a lot of voters still aren’t tuned-in to the contest.

And then there’s the Libertarian candidate, Robert Sarvis. His nearly 11 percent showing is impressive, and he draws his support largely from independents (44 percent of his total). But Republicans make up a third of his supporters, and that fits the long-standing narrative that Libertarians draw from Republican candidates more than Democrats. Does this make him a spoiler? We shall see. But if Sarvis bucks Virginia history and his supporters actually cast their ballot for him in November, it is possible the eventual winner could claim the governorship with less than half of the vote.

Where are the candidates strengths? Ken Cuccinelli runs best in the 1st, 4th, 6th, 7th, 9th and 10th congressional districts. But his lead is only outside the margin of error in the 1st, 7th and 9th CDs.

Terry McAuliffe is ahead in the 2nd, 3rd, 8th and 11th districts. His lead is outside the margin of error in the 3rd, 8th and 11th CDs — and he has a commanding lead in the 8th, 57-24.

The candidates are tied 29-29 in the 5th congressional district. Sarvis runs strong here, with 21 percent. But his greatest strength is in the 4th CD, where he ties Terry McAuliffe at 24 percent and is just three points back of Ken Cuccinelli.

The bottom line? This race is wide open. We’ve seen this trend building over the last few weeks across all polls and ours confirms the tightening.

For those interested in diving through the numbers, the top lines can be found here.

The crosstabs can be found here.