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UPDATED: New poll shows support for Sarvis in Virginia governor’s race

Gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe, Ken Cuccinelli and Robert C. Sarvis

Gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe, Ken Cuccinelli and Robert C. Sarvis

Less than 50 days to Election Day, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe holds a slight three percentage point lead over Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli, while Libertarian nominee Robert C. Sarvis has the backing of seven percent of likely voters.

The Quinnipiac University poll released today showing the major political party candidates apart 44-41 percent, including voters who are leaning to one candidate, is the first that has included Sarvis.

It shows a tightening between McAuliffe and Cuccinelli, as the Democrat’s edge shrank from an August Quinnipiac poll that showed him with a 6-percentage point margin, 48-42 percent.

On favorability, voters are split on McAuliffe 38-38 percent and 22 percent haven’t heard enough about him. Voters give Cuccinelli a negative 34-51 percent favorability rating and 13 percent haven’t heard enough about him to give an opinion.

A majority of likely voters —  85 percent — don’t know enough about Sarvis to form an opinion, according to the poll.

“Terry McAuliffe is less disliked than State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Voters are not wild about either man, and that may be one reason why Libertarian Robert Sarvis is running so well,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

“History tells us that third-party candidates tend to experience shrinking support as Election Day nears. If Sarvis does get 7 percent of the actual vote, that would reflect not just his strength but the weakness of the major party candidates.”

Six percent of likely voters say they are undecided and Brown indicates it’s hard to tell which major party candidate Sarvis is impacting most.

“Right now, we can’t tell whether Sarvis’ candidacy is hurting Cuccinelli more than McAuliffe,” said Brown, adding that Sarvis is getting 3 percent of the GOP vote, 2 percent of the Democratic vote and 14 percent of independent voters.

“Since there are more people in Virginia who now consider themselves Democrats than Republicans, logic says that Cuccinelli needs a solid margin among independent voters. Instead, these voters are divided 37-37 percent between the Democrat and Republican,” Brown said.

Cuccinelli has a 48-38 percent lead among white voters; McAuliffe holds a 77-9 percent lead among black voters. Cuccinelli leads with men, 47-40 percent and McAuliffe leads 49-35 with women.

Anna Nix, a spokeswoman for the Cuccinelli campaign, noted that the race remains with the margin of error.

“As voters learn more about Ken Cuccinelli’s record of fighting for Virginia and Terry McAuliffe’s record of putting himself first at the expense of workers, they are going side with the attorney general,” she said.  “With each passing day, the energy and enthusiasm on the ground in support of Cuccinelli grows and with less than 50 days, our campaign is working to deliver victory.”

McAuliffe campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin said “We never put much stock in a single poll, but with more than half of Virginians finding Cuccinelli and his extreme social agenda unfavorable everyone should expect to see the Cuccinelli campaign become more and more desperate in the final weeks of the campaign.”

Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,005 likely voters Sept. 9-15 with a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points.

The candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general are still unknown to most voters.

On whether the candidates have the right kind of experience to be governor, 58 percent of voters said Cuccinelli does and 47 percent said McAuliffe does.

Asked if they think the candidates are trustworthy, 39 percent of voters said they find Cuccinelli trustworthy and honest and 49 percent don’t. For McAuliffe, 39 percent said yes and 42 percent said no.