The word Virginia voters most commonly associate with their gubernatorial candidates is “dishonest,” according to poll results released Thursday that offer a glimpse into the collateral damage inflicted by the candidates’ negative campaigns.
When asked the first thought or word that came to mind in response to hearing each candidates’ name, “dishonest” came up 13 percent of the time for Democrat Terry McAuliffe and 10 percent for Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the state’s attorney general.
“Voters continue to learn more about the candidates, but, in this case, familiarity appears to be breeding contempt,” said Dr. Harry Wilson, director of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College, which released the poll. “When ‘dishonest’ is the most common response to each, you know the candidates are not generally popular.”
Overall, the poll puts Mr. McAuliffe at 35 percent, Mr. Cuccinelli at 33 percent and Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis at 8 percent. The survey, conducted Sept. 9-15 of 874 likely voters, had a margin of error of 3.3 percent.
The Roanoke poll also presented a potential quandary for Mr. Cuccinelli.
Two-thirds of voters were at least somewhat familiar with controversies surrounding the attorney general’s receiving gifts from a wealthy businessman and his office’s giving legal advice to out-of-state energy companies that donated to his campaign — two issues with which Mr. McAuliffe’s campaign has relentlessly used against him.
Mr. Cuccinelli, meanwhile, has criticized Mr. McAuliffe for his role with GreenTech Automotive Inc., a small-car company he cofounded in 2009 that has not lived up to projected job or production levels and is currently under investigation by the federal government.
But less than half of voters were familiar with Mr. McAuliffe’s involvement with the company.
That leaves the campaign with a possible choice of working to improve Mr. Cuccinelli’s favorability ratings or trying to drive Mr. McAuliffe’s favorability down, said Bob Holsworth, a former Virginia Commonwealth University professor and longtime observer of politics in the state.
“If you’ve taken a look at the last couple of weeks, it’s clear that [Cuccinelli‘s] been trying to be a bit more positive — that he’s trying to contrast his policy knowledge with what he calls McAuliffe’s casualness,” Mr. Holsworth said.
Mr. Cuccinelli took the dramatic step Thursday of unveiling a half-hour television ad in which he makes his case to be governor before a studio audience. He also rolled out a separate ad touting the recent endorsement of the political arm of the Northern Virginia Technology Council.
The ads come after a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday that also shows the race within the margin of error says more voters now see it as a mudslinging contest than did a month ago.
This week, the split dropped to 24 percent who said the campaign was about issues and 60 percent who thought it was about attacks. Mr. McAuliffe saw a similar trend. His split was 25 percent to 56 percent last month and 19 percent to 68 percent this week.