Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin gestures during a rally in Glen Allen, Va., Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021.
CNN  — 

Sometimes, a poll shows a result so stunning that it generates headline on top of headline. That was certainly the case with a Fox News poll released Thursday that showed Republican Glenn Youngkin with an 8-point lead over Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia’s gubernatorial race.

But while Youngkin has certainly closed out the race strong, he’s likely not running away with this election. A look at all the data suggests that this race remains far too close to call.

Case in point: A Washington Post-Schar School poll published on Friday morning had McAuliffe with a well within the margin of error 1-point lead over Youngkin among likely voters.

The Washington Post poll differed in another way, too: how much voter preferences have changed over time. McAuliffe led by 3 points in the Washington Post’s last poll in September, which is just 2 points different from the current poll. Fox News had McAuliffe ahead by 5 points in mid-October, indicating a 13-point shift since that point.

For the casual consumer, the differences between these data points can be mind twisting. It’s plausible that either result is correct, but it’s impossible for both of them to be.

The truth is that the margin of error exists in polls, and the Washington Post poll looks a lot more like the average.

Take a look at the polling average in the Virginia governor’s race since the end of August. You’ll see that McAuliffe’s edge has gone from about 5 points in late August to 3 points in late September to a tie today – in other words, slow but clear movement toward Youngkin.

This has come as President Joe Biden’s approval rating has dropped precipitously both nationally and in Virginia.

So why would Fox show something so different? Well, for one thing, the margin of error for the difference between the candidates is about 6 points in their latest poll. It was 7 points in their previous survey. This adds up. Additionally, the margin of error doesn’t capture all the ​​potential errors a poll can have.

It’s pretty clear looking at the Fox News poll that it’s likely the political leanings of the people they surveyed changed dramatically f​​rom the last poll to this one. President Joe Biden’s net job approval rating (approve - disapprove) went from +1 points among likely voters last poll to -13 points this poll. Oher polling doesn’t show that dramatic of a decline in the last few weeks.

Now, it’s worth noting the latest Fox News poll could end up being correct. If you examine poll averages in more than 240 gubernatorial elections since 1998, the final averages have a 95% confidence interval of about +/- 12 points.

So if the race is a tie right now, it really shouldn’t be that shocking if either McAuliffe or Youngkin win with some ease. Poll averages can tell you if a race is close or a blowout. They won’t necessarily tell you who will win in a fairly close race.

Of course, the mere fact that the race in Virginia is so close tells you everything you need to know about the current political environment. Republicans have a real shot of capturing the governor’s mansion in a state that Biden won by 10 points just a year ago and that hasn’t elected a Republican statewide since 2009.

If the outcome matches the Fox News poll, Washington Post poll or average, it’s not a good sign for Democrats going forward.