(CNN) – With less than four weeks to go until Election Day in Virginia, a new poll indicates Democrat Terry McAuliffe holds a slight eight percentage point lead over Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the battle for governor.
According to a Quinnipiac University survey released Thursday morning, 47% of likely voters in Virginia's November 5 election say they back McAuliffe, a businessman and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee who's making his second bid for governor. Thirty-nine percent of those questioned say they support Cuccinelli, with Libertarian Party candidate Robert Sarvis polling at eight percent, and five percent unsure.
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In two polls released earlier this week, McAuliffe held a nine-point lead (47%-38%) over Cuccinelli in a Christopher Newport University survey and a smaller five-point advantage (41%-36%) in a Roanoke College poll.
Virginia, a critical purple battleground in campaign politics, and New Jersey are the only two states to hold gubernatorial contests in the year following a presidential election, giving them outsized attention and importance.
According to the Quinnipiac poll, McAuliffe has the backing of 95% of Democrats, with 83% of Republicans supporting Cuccinelli. Forty percent of independents support McAuliffe, with 38% backing Cuccinelli and 13% for Sarvis.
The survey indicates a gender gap, with women backing McAuliffe, a close confident of Bill and Hillary Clinton, 53%-34% over Cuccinelli and men more divided (45% for Cuccinelli and 41% for McAuliffe).
"With less than a month to go until Election Day, McAuliffe is doing better among Democrats than Cuccinelli is among Republicans. McAuliffe and Libertarian Robert Sarvis are denying Cuccinelli the domination among independents he needs for victory," says Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "To get back in the race, Cuccinelli must bring back into the fold Republican defectors and pull in more independent voters – a tough task this far into the campaign."
McAuliffe's campaign has spent much of this year trying to portray Cuccinelli, who's a favorite of tea party and other grassroots conservatives, as too extreme for mainstream commonwealth voters. According to the poll, 46% of likely voters say Cuccinelli is too conservative, with 38% saying McAuliffe's too liberal.
With Virginia home a large number of federal workers, national issues, such as a partial federal government shutdown and the battle over the new health care law, are playing a significant role in the contest.
The poll indicates likely voters are divided 49% – 47% percent on whether they support the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. And more than seven in 10 are opposed to shutting down the government to try and dismantle the health care law.
The winner of the election will succeed outgoing Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell.
The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted October 2-8, with 1,180 likely voters questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus six percentage points.