Why Democrats Should Be Worried About Virginia Governor’s Race

The outcome of those races will help us tell us whether the rising Democratic coalition of African-American and white college-educated voters is providing the support they need to stop a red Republican wave.

Right now, Democrats need to be worried about what they see in the polls. President Joe Biden took the state by 10 points last year. But recently, his approval rating in many recent polls has fallen below his disapproval rate, just like nationally.

Biden’s declining fortune coincided with Youngkin’s rise in those same polls. Although McAuliffe maintains a nominal lead, this race is well within the margin of error.

This is notable for a number of reasons.

We know that what happens in Virginia rarely stays in Virginia. Virginia turned out to be a good barometer of the midterm elections.

Over the past decade, the outcome of House races as a whole correlates well with what happened in House races the following year. Democrats’ popular voting margin in the House of Delegates in 2017 was almost the same as in the House races nationwide in 2018, for example.

And since 1978, the party that won the state governorship has won seats in the House of Representatives the following year 8 out of 11 times.

One of the times the Virginia gubernatorial race failed to predict the results of the following year, 2013, is notable, and not just because McAuliffe won that race. (Virginia governors cannot serve two consecutive terms.)

The 2013 election is an indication of how important Virginia has shifted to the left in recent years. Republicans haven’t won a key statewide race in Virginia since 2009.

As recently as 2001, Republicans had just easily won the presidential race in the state and controlled both the seats of the US Senate and the three main state offices (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General) .

Democrats losing (or even close to losing) here in 2021 would suggest that they are doing so badly domestically that they can’t even win a state that has swung to the left.

Specifically, a poor performance would indicate that the Democrats’ improvements with a group they have done much better with recently, white college-educated voters, are not enough for them to win next year.

In the 2000 presidential election, Republican George W. Bush won those voters by 20 points in the Old Dominion. Last year, Biden, a Democrat, earned a 7-point victory with them.

That nearly 30-point turnaround was more than enough to propel Biden’s statewide victory when combined with the near-unanimous support of the state’s black electoral population.

The change in the vote for Virginia white college graduates mirrors what we’ve seen nationally. Compared to a 9-point loss to Democrat Al Gore in 2000, Biden came out with a 3-point win with them nationally in the exit polls.

The shift in political preferences among white voters with a college degree was found to be just enough to allow Democrats to win nationally, even as their position among white voters without a college degree has shrunk.

But what’s happening in Virginia in 2021 isn’t just about broad national implications – it’s about another state, Georgia, which shares many demographic similarities with Virginia. Georgia will be a key political state in 2022. It has a major governor race, potentially competitive House races, and a Senate seat that Democrats are desperate to defend in order to maintain their slim majority.

Georgia, like Virginia, has a large black population and lots of white voters with college degrees for a southern state. While the two aren’t quite comparable as Georgia’s black population is larger and growing at a faster rate, neither would have been won by Biden in 2020 without him winning many more. white voters with a college degree than Gore 20 years earlier.

Gore lost that group by 41 points in Georgia, while Biden lost them by just 11 points.

Of course, we’re getting a bit ahead of the game here. Democrats haven’t lost anything yet or have almost lost anything in Virginia.

Democrat and current Governor Ralph Northam held a similar lead to McAuliffe at a similar point in the 2017 campaign. He ended up winning by 9 points ahead of the Democrats’ dominant performance in the 2018 House races.

Democrats would be more than happy with a similar outcome this time around.

About Therese Williams

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