What Virginia’s Early Voting Tells Us About the Governor’s Race

Nearly three-quarters of a million Virginians have voted ahead of the contest between former Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) and former Carlyle Group CEO Glenn Youngkin (R), a contest that will provide critical reading on the political mood before next year’s midterm elections.

The polls in the race are unanimous: almost regardless of which model a pollster uses to guess which voters will turn up, McAuliffe and Youngkin are tied. It has been more than a month since any poll showed a candidate with an advantage outside the margin of error; the last six public polls give McAuliffe an average advantage of 0.8 percentage points – indeed, nothing.

Early voting isn’t much more helpful. Voters in Virginia are not registered by party, so it is impossible to know if more Democrats or more Republicans are running to cast their votes.

But what is certain is that early voting in the Commonwealth, long held against trends to allow access to the polls before Election Day, is here to stay.

After the Democratic-controlled legislature expanded access to early voting before the 2020 election, Virginia voters are beginning to embrace the practice much more widely than ever. Four years ago, only 190,000 people cast their early votes; already this year, almost four times more people have done it.

Both Democrats and Republicans maintain comprehensive voter registers, allowing each side to model rough estimates of their position when the polls open on Election Day. Interviews with modelers who follow the vote of Democratic and Republican clients show some things that are known, and some critical unknowns, ahead of next week’s election.

Democrats start with an advantage

When the polls open on Election Day, more people will have already voted for Terry McAuliffe than for Glenn Youngkin. That’s not new, veteran data experts say: Habits developed over the years by voters of various parties and demographic groups mean that Democrats almost always win early voting, while Republicans almost always win the vote on Monday. elections.

“Democrats, just by the nature of their behavior, show up earlier the moment they’re allowed. So it’s typical for some lead to build up heading into Election Day, ”said Mark Stephenson, a Republican modeler who is monitoring Virginia totals. “Just the behavior of our voters is that many of them still like to vote on Election Day. After all, Trump won the vote on Election Day in Virginia by 25 points.

The question, then, is how much of an advantage Democrats can accumulate and whether it will be enough to survive the Republican votes that arrive on Election Day, whether Democrats have built a levee large enough to withstand the red tide.

Tom Bonier, who runs the Democratic data firm TargetSmart, estimates that 54.7 percent of those who have already voted are Democratic voters and 30.4 percent are Republican voters. That is a greater advantage than President BidenJoe Biden Former lawmakers sign brief to counter Trump’s claims of executive privilege in January 6 probe Biden appoints Sara Minkara as special adviser to the US on international rights of persons with disabilities Fox poll shows that Youngkin leads McAuliffe by 8 points among likely voters MORE built in 2020, when Democratic early voters outnumbered Republican early voters by a 9-point advantage.

But the overall proportion of voters casting the first votes is likely to be lower than the proportion that did in 2020.

Last year, the 2.8 million votes cast early accounted for nearly 63 percent of the total ballots cast. This year, the total early voting, which is likely to get around 850,000 votes, will likely end about a third of the total ballots cast.

So McAuliffe has probably built a higher wall among early voters, but the Election Day wave will be higher than last year.

Participation will decrease from 2020

No wonder here. Total turnout in Virginia gubernatorial elections in a year out is generally less than two-thirds of the total turnout in the previous year’s presidential race, and may drop to nearly half the previous presidential year, as was the case in 2009, when the total of votes cast was the same. only 53 percent of the 2008 elections.

Turnout in early voting this year is about half what it was a year ago, indicating another steep drop ahead.

But Republicans got the message last year, after Biden got such a big lead in early voting.

“Glenn Youngkin has continually encouraged Virginians to vote early and the campaign has focused its efforts on early voting because it is the best way to take back the Commonwealth and ensure Virginia has safe communities, a booming economy, and parents have a voice. in his Educating children is voting early for Glenn, ”said Macaulay Porter, Youngkin’s campaign spokesperson.

Democrats say early voting is picking up in recent days, a sign of their late momentum.

“Due to the expansion of early voting locations and hours over the past week, we have seen a significant increase in daily early voting totals, with more than 310,000 ballots cast since last Monday,” said Christina Freundlich, spokeswoman for McAuliffe. .

Northern Virginia is proving (relatively) huge

About a third of all initial votes this year have been cast in the Washington, DC media market, the engine that has propelled Virginia’s shift from the red state to the purple battlefield and blue bastion.

Bonier’s model shows that a higher proportion of Northern Virginia voters are likely Democrats (64 percent) than in 2020 (54.5 percent) or 2017 (57 percent).

“We’ve also seen an increase in early voting by Democrats in places like Loudoun, Prince William and Chesterfield counties, which tells us that Democratic voters who backed Joe Biden in 2020 are now voting for Terry,” Freundlich said. .

But Northern Virginia has played an unusual role in this year’s election: It includes Loudoun County, the epicenter of the debate over the school curriculum and critical race theory that has taken over conversation across the globe. state and starred in paid advertising for the Youngkin and McAuliffe campaigns.

Has Youngkin made inroads among voters who voted against the former president? Donald trumpDonald Trump Former lawmakers sign brief to counter Trump’s claims of executive privilege in January 6 probe Fox poll shows Youngkin leads McAuliffe by 8 points among potential voters Iowa legislature passes redistribution proposal of districts MOREbut who could be turning right? His campaign believes so: Youngkin’s models show that he is performing better than Trump in Loudoun County, and also in major regions such as Virginia Beach, Henrico and Chesterfield counties.

“There are areas in Northern Virginia that are probably doing what they want. I’m not convinced that all of those people are voting for Terry McAuliffe,” Stephenson said.

Black voters are showing up

Black voters have cast about 11.5 percent of all early votes so far, according to Bonier’s model, significantly higher than the 8.2 percent of the electorate they formed in early voting in 2017. And those who have run are more likely to be Democrats than four years ago.

White voters still make up the overwhelming majority of early voters (82.3 percent), but their turnout is down three percentage points from four years ago. Digging deeper, the drop among white voters appears to be coming from those with no college education, voters who were more likely to vote Republican in recent years.

But again, history is an imperfect guide at best. Will those college-educated white voters, who voted overwhelmingly against Trump, feel the same way about the fleece-clad Youngkin? McAuliffe’s paid media has aimed to create an inexorable bond between Trump and Youngkin, and exit polls, particularly among those voters, will illustrate whether that strategy worked.

Younger voters are not

Twice as many 18-29 year olds who voted in 2021 as in early 2017, 43,700 compared to 21,000 four years ago. But that represents a sharp drop in the share of votes: Younger voters make up just over half the share of the electorate they had in 2017.

“The overall growth in turnout in this age group has not kept pace with the rest of the electorate,” Bonier wrote.

At the other end of the spectrum, voters aged 65 to 74 and over 75 represent a larger proportion of the electorate than they did four years ago.

In the 2020 presidential race, younger voters backed Biden by a nearly two-to-one margin, while those over 65 backed Trump by nine points. That, Bonier says, is a “worrying potential sign” for his party.

Biden is a drag

Polls showing a race tied at the top of the ticket also show President Biden constantly underwater in Virginia. This week alone, Biden’s approval ratings stand at 42 percent. in a Suffolk poll, 41 percent in a Virginia Commonwealth University surveyand 41 percent in an Emerson College survey.

“The good news for them is that Biden’s numbers are not that good in the state right now,” Stephenson said. “The fact that we don’t have party registration, there are a lot of independent voters from a modeled point of view that Youngkin should be leans much more than they were in 2020.”

So what do we know?

When the polls open Tuesday morning, it’s pretty safe to say that more people will have voted for Terry McAuliffe than Glenn Youngkin. It’s also safe to say that, on Tuesday, more people will vote for Youngkin than McAuliffe.

How tall is the Democratic levee? How big is the Republican wave? For those responses, we have to wait for the polls to close and the votes to be counted.


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