McAuliffe/Cuccinelli Nail-Biter: Who Saw It Coming?

Photograph by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Virginia Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe (D) speaks to the crowd during an election night event, on November 5, 2013 in Tysons Corner, Virginia.

Gauging Virginia’s gubernatorial race in the walk-up to Tuesday’s vote attracted many of the big boys in U.S. political polling, including the Washington Post, Quinnipiac University and Rasmussen Reports. Also weighing in on the battle between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinielli were survey units from two Virginia schools — Christopher Newport University and Hampton University.

McAuliffe ended up eking out a 2.5-percentage-point victory — a smaller margin than predicted by any of those pollsters listed above. Indeed, a check of the polls taken over the contest’s last two weeks, as conveniently aggregated by RealClearPolitics, shows that the one outfit coming closest to nailing McAuliffe’s margin is based in Boston. And run by students.

That would be the Emerson College Polling Society, which in its Oct. 25-30 survey showed McAuliffe with a 2-percentage-point edge, a result that at the time seemed an outlier. Most of the other final polls put McAuliffe up by 6 or 7 points, with the Post’s Oct. 24-27 survey giving him a 12 point advantage (we imagine some methodology re-evaluation is underway at that shop).

Not that the numbers from Emerson were spot-on perfect. Like most of the other pollsters, the college overestimated Libertarian Robert Sarvis’ strength: Emerson showed him winning 13 percent; he ended up with less than 7 percent.

Still, hats off to the young folks in Massachusetts for most accurately forecasting a squeaker in the Old Dominion.

“We’ve had a pretty good track record,” the Polling Society’s president, 21-year-old Siobhan Robinson, told us last night. And with the outome in Virginia, “It’s really great to see our work pay off.”

Robinson, a senior from Miami, said that as the group’s efforts have gained increasing attention from political journalists, some have inquired “if there are any adults involved.”

There’s a faculty advisor assigned to the society, but she and a crew of five to eight other students devise their poll questionnaires and crunch the numbers, Robinson said.

Clearly, they know what they’re doing.




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