Virginia Gubernatorial Election 2017

Impact Social analysed this campaign for the final six weeks in the run up until polling day. They had been tasked with discovering not only who was most likely to win but why.

From the outset Impact Social discovered that political climate in which the election was being fought would have a big impact on the outcome. The election was being held 12 months after Donald Trump had become president and it was clear that Virginians were in no mood for an aggressive, divisive Trumpian type race.

Our insight showed any attempt to mimic the aggression of the year before was being given short shrift by the public. The insight showed that the candidate which best understood and reacted to the new climate had a very good chance of winning come polling day.


And so it proved.


Virginia Governor's race


Team Gillespie mis-judge the mood

Our insight showed that the Democratic candidate, Ralph Northam, kindly in manner, a former Dr in the armed forces and paediatrician was well received in Virginia. Week after week sentiment towards Northam and his policies tracked above his rival.


At the same time the Republican candidate, Ed Gillespie was much more aggressive in his tone and betrayed more of a street fighter persona during the race. This approach was not well-received in-state where people spoke in great numbers across social media about how much they disliked the hateful politics he and his team seemed to be adopting. Not only did this earn him few favours, it also served to provide Northam with a favourable contrast to his own, seemingly mild-mannered display.



In terms of policy Impact Social again showed team Gillespie misjudging the mood. An ill advised attack ad on Northam claiming he was in favour of sanctuary cities (in order to highlight Gillespie’s own agenda on immigration), was deemed as racist online turning the election against Gillespie. This misjudgement was reinforced week after week as his team continually ran the TV ad further distancing himself from the voters he needed to attract.


Our ability to read the mood among Virginians and its importance in the race was tested two weeks before the race when an online ad ran in support of Northam (via the Latino Victory Fund), which showed white men in a pickup truck chasing down minority children. The right reacted with anger and happily pointed the racism finger at Northam. Meanwhile many on the left felt disappointed that their candidate was now no better than his opponent.


This ad, although only running for three days online had a damaging impact on Northam’s credibility. Thankfully for him, it came late in the campaign and he had built up enough support over the previous weeks to see him over the line.



Full analysis is available on request.




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