Economy tops education and Covid-19 as most important issue for Virginia voters, exit poll shows

UniqueThis 7 Nov 2

It's Election Day in several key states
Just under one-quarter said education is most important, about 15% chose taxes, about 14% chose the coronavirus pandemic and just about one-tenth chose abortion.
McAuliffe voters call the economy and coronavirus their top issues, followed by education. Among Youngkin voters, the economy is the top issue, followed by education and taxes.
Most voters take a positive view of Virginia's economy, with about 55% rating it either excellent or good.
National debates over masking and Covid-19 vaccine mandates charged the Virginia governor contest, with Youngkin having tapped into existing frustration with remote schooling for months during Covid-19 to get a hearing for his more partisan messages on the rights of parents to decide how their children are taught about America's racial history.
Although early exit polling shows the pandemic isn't at the top of voters' concerns, they're overwhelmingly likely to be vaccinated and a smaller majority are supportive of workplace vaccine mandates. The vast majority of Virginia voters, more than 8 in 10, say they've gotten at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and just over half say they favor employers requiring their employees to get vaccinated.
McAuliffe holds a commanding lead among voters who call the pandemic the biggest issue. The small minority of unvaccinated voters overwhelmingly support Youngkin, while McAuliffe holds a more modest majority among vaccinated voters. More than 80% who back a workplace mandate favor McAuliffe, while nearly 9 in 10 of those who oppose it favor Youngkin.
In his closing argument to voters ahead of Election Day, Youngkin sought to center the national implications of the race, in part, on education.
Preliminary results of exit polling show that roughly half of Virginia voters say parents should have a lot of say in what their children's school teaches, with about a third saying parents should have some say, and a little over 1 in 10 saying they should have little or no say. That sentiment is even more pronounced among parents with children under 18, more than 60% of whom say parents should have a lot of say.
Voters' views of McAuliffe are underwater, while their opinions of Youngkin are modestly positive. About three-quarters of voters -- including similar shares of those backing each candidate -- say they view their choice for governor as being more in support of their candidate than against his opponent.
Both Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly support their party's candidates, with independents breaking slightly in Youngkin's favor. Youngkin also carries male voters by a roughly 12-point margin, and White Evangelicals by about 76 points. The exit poll also suggests a slim advantage for the Republican in the suburbs, an area that shifted toward Democrats during Donald Trump's presidency.
Virginia voters in this year's elections hold negative views of both President Joe Biden and Trump. Biden, who won comfortably in Virginia last year, now faces approval ratings significantly underwater in the state, with roughly 45% approving and the rest disapproving -- likely a consequence both of his declining ratings since taking office, and the composition of the electorate that turned out to vote this year. Only about one-fifth of voters say they view their vote as a way to express support for Biden, with nearly 3 in 10 saying it's a way to express opposition, and the remaining half of the electorate saying Biden wasn't a factor. Trump isn't any more popular in the state: only about 4 in 10 view him favorably.
McAuliffe, in the final days of campaigning, had crisscrossed the state, casting the Virginia elections as a chance for Democrats to validate their eight years of Democratic leadership in the commonwealth by delivering Republicans and the former President a defeat ahead of critical 2022 and 2024 elections.
A narrow majority of voters say the Democratic Party is too liberal overall, while fewer call the Republican Party too conservative. About two-thirds of Democratic voters say their own party's ideology is about right, while about two-thirds of Republicans say the same of the GOP. Independents are less satisfied with either party, with just under one-quarter saying the Democratic Party is generally about right, and only about one-third saying that of the GOP.
More than 80% of voters say they're at least somewhat confident that votes in the state will be counted accurately, but slightly below half call themselves very confident. Democrats are roughly four times as likely as Republicans to say they're very confident about election accuracy.
Virginia's electorate in the governor's race doesn't look the same as it has in recent elections, the preliminary results suggest.
Roughly 74% of the electorate is White, compared with about two-thirds in the 2017 governor's election and the 2020 presidential election. The electorate is also older than it was a year ago -- only about one-tenth are under 30, compared to 20% in 2020.
The Virginia CNN Exit Poll is a combination of in-person interviews with Election Day voters and telephone and online polls measuring the views of absentee by-mail and early voters. It was conducted by Edison Research on behalf of the National Election Pool. In-person interviews on Election Day were conducted at a random sample of 35 Virginia polling locations among 1,840 Election Day voters. The results also include 2,068 interviews with early and absentee voters conducted by phone, online or by text. Results for the full sample have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points; it is larger for subgroups.

CNN's Stephen Collinson, Dan Merica and Eric Bradner contributed to this report.