Wenzel poll: A dead heat between Cuccinelli and McAuliffe

Another day, another poll, this one from Wenzel Strategies, which finds the gubernatorial race is…a dead heat.

That’s right, according to these numbers:

Democrat Terry McAuliffe leads Republican Ken Cuccinelli by a 41% to 40% margin, with Libertarian Rob Sarvis winning 10%. Another 9% of likely voters said they were yet undecided in the race.

So how do we get to these figures?

The Wenzel Strategies poll, using a turnout model that is closely balanced, includes a sample of 28% Democrats, 26% Republicans, and 46% independent voters. This reflects the swing-state tradition of Virginia that has lately leaned toward Republicans in statewide, non-presidential years, but has tilted to the Democrats in recent presidential elections.

Using a turnout model replicated by Quinnipiac University in its recent survey, weighting the sample to include 33% Democrats, 25% Republicans, and 42% independents or minor party supporters, McAuliffe leads with 43%, compared to 38% Cuccinelli, 10% for Sarvis and 9% yet undecided. This reflects a slight tightening of the race, compared to the Quinnipiac survey that showed McAuliffe with a 7-point lead.

Bearing Drift’s poll of the gubernatorial race used a much more traditional, more Republican, voter turnout for the off-year election. We found, back in September, that the race was…a dead heat. That was a terrible result for the Cuccinelli campaign — which is why the Republican press operation gave us no notice that day.

So it really all comes down to who folks think will show up on election day. Most polls believe turnout will more closely resemble that of the presidential race. Could be. And if it so, that will be one of the biggest stories of this election. Even the Wenzel poll shows a slightly more Democratic turnout.

Reason for Cuccinelli supporters to cheer? Sure. Until we get to this:

The Wenzel Strategies survey shows voters are split on both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli. While 45% said they have a favorable opinion of McAuliffe, 46% have an unfavorable opinion of him. For Cuccinelli, 47% hold a favorable opinion, while 50% have an unfavorable opinion of him.

McAuliffe has done a better job locking down his political base, perhaps in part to recent campaigning in the state by both Clintons, who are longtime allies of McAuliffe. Among Democrats, McAuliffe wins 81% support. Among Republicans, Cuccinelli wins just 68% support. Among those who consider themselves political independents, Cuccinelli wins 44% support, compared to 33% for McAuliffe and 11% for Sarvis.

I still do not see a path to victory — for any candidate — when the negatives are at or above 50 percent.

Take the numbers for what you will. They offer hope that all is not lost, and that McAuliffe may actually have peaked too soon.

Nota bene: Wenzel’s record in Virginia’s 2012 record for the presidential and Senate contests was not good.