THE PEOPLE SPEAK: Republican challenger Ed Gillespie appears to have lost his bid, but he’s sure sparked conversation.
By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Most of Tuesday night, Republican challenger Ed Gillespie led incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, until Warner squeaked ahead by less than 1 percent of the vote.
The comeback left the heads of pundits, journalists and even the candidates spinning.
Previous polls placed Warner comfortably ahead, if not by double digits. There are dozens of post-mortem stories on how that came to be, and whether Libertarian Robert Sarvis made Gillespie the victim in one of the most incredible upsets in Virginia history.
Sometimes, the best people to ask aren’t the pundits, but rather the voters.
Here are some of the top 10 most interesting takeaways from the exit polls.
1. It wasn’t only about Obama.
Of those polled, 32 percent voted to oppose Obama, and 21 percent did so to support him. But 45 percent of those polled, including 31 percent of Gillespie voters, agreed the president was not a factor in their reasons to vote.
2. It’s the economy, stupid.
A whopping 50 percent of those polled said the economy is the most important issue facing the country. Next came health care, at 28 percent. Interestingly enough, people who voted for Warner were more likely than those who voted for Gillespie to say the economy is the top issue. But in a different question, Gillespie voters were far more likely than Warner voters to say they’re “very worried” about the direction of the economy over the next year.
3. Voters made up their minds long ago.
A whopping 69 percent of those polled said they made up their minds longer than one month ago. People who made up their minds within the past few days or weeks were more likely to vote for Sarvis than those who made up their minds long ago.
4. Warner wins with unmarried folks.
Married people pretty evenly voted for Warner and Gillespie, 49 percent to 48 percent, respectively. And just 2 percent of married folks voted for Sarvis. But of the unmarried people who voted, 59 percent voted for Warner, versus 36 percent for Gillespie and 5 percent for Sarvis. Warner won especially handily with unmarried women, generally considered a reliable demographic for the Democratic Party.
5. Young voters have a libertarian strain.
The so-called millennial generation didn’t vote for Sarvis as much as they indicated they might in one pre-election poll, in which their support for Sarvis was more than double their support for Gillespie. But exit polls showed that 11 percent of those in the 18-29 age group voted for the Libertarian candidate. Nationwide, Sarvis got just 2.5 percent of the vote.
6. Voters hate the Republican Party less.
Even though Warner won, voters were more likely to have a favorable view of the Republican Party as a whole than the Democratic Party as a whole. Roughly 38 percent of those polled viewed the Democratic Party favorably; 41 percent viewed the Republican Party favorably. But unfavorables for both parties outweighed favorables.
7. Voters were born somewhere else.
The majority of voters polled Tuesday, 55 percent, moved to Virginia from elsewhere.
8. Same-sex marriage isn’t a decided issue in Virginia.
Of those polled, 44 percent agreed that Virginia should legally recognize same-sex marriage, while 53 percent said it shouldn’t. Warner and Sarvis voters were, unsurprisingly, more accepting of gay marriage than Gillespie voters.
9. Gillespie voters like guns more.
Half of those polled — 50 percent — said they owned a gun. But of those who owned guns, 58 percent voted for Gillespie, while 39 percent voted for Warner, and 3 percent voted for Sarvis.
10. Votes depended on how voters view government’s role.
The majority of voters polled — 59 percent — said government is doing too much, while 38 percent said government needs to do more to solve problems. But people who said government is doing too much and should leave the work to businesses and individuals were far more likely to vote for Gillespie than for Warner.
Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau, and can be reached on Twitter @kathrynw5.