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Not So Fast: Virginia Election Results Should Worry Democrats

Posted on Friday, November 10, 2023
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by Walter Samuel
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AMAC Exclusive – By Walter Samuel

Glenn Youngkin and flag of Virginia

Tuesday’s results in Virginia have been treated as a major victory for the Democrat Party and a serious setback to Governor Glenn Youngkin. There is more of a case for the latter contention than for the former.

Youngkin invested much of his political prestige, and vast sums of money, in a bid to take control of the state legislature. He recruited candidates, ensured they were nominated, and campaigned aggressively for them. He did everything possible to make the contest a referendum, declaring that the choice of whether he would have a GOP legislature would determine whether he could govern.

The voters of Virginia seem to have concluded that they do not want him to govern. Not only did the Republicans fail to take the state Senate, but they lost the majority in the state House of Delegates they had won in 2021.

While Republicans no doubt appreciate that the governor put up a good fight, the results are certainly disappointing for Youngkin, but it is less clear that they are particularly good for the Democratic Party. The 2019 and 2021 elections for the House of Delegates were conducted on maps drawn by Republicans in 2011, ones lopsided enough to produce an over-extended 66-34 GOP majority prior to the 2017 elections.

Tuesday’s contest, by contrast, was fought on maps that were drawn by a team of special masters appointed by the Virginia Supreme Court. Population shifts alone likely would have produced a Democrat majority in the House on the new maps even if no votes shifted from 2021.

In fact, that is almost precisely what happened.

How Youngkin did in 2021

# State Senate Seats

How Many the GOP won in 2023

# State House Seats

How Many the GOP won in 2023

Youngkin 60%+

13

13

29

29

Youngkin 55%-59.99%

2

2

13

13

Youngkin 50%-54.99%

5

4

10

7

Youngkin < 50%

20

0

48

0

The problem for the GOP was simple: they had zero margin for error. To have any chance at a majority they needed to match Youngkin’s November 2021 performance.

Contrary to charges that Tuesday was a great night for the Democrats, Virginia Republicans came incredibly close to doing exactly that despite serious factors stacked against them.

Republicans won 49 of 52 House seats and 19 of 20 Senate seats in districts where Youngkin won in 2021. The “tipping-point” seats that determined control, the 30th Senate District and the 82nd House District, were both more Democratic than the state. Glenn Youngkin won the 82nd district by less than 2 percent and the 30th by a mere 50 percent to 49.39 percent. On Tuesday, the Republican lost it by 4 percent.

That result looks downright impressive for the Republicans when we consider that in 2020, the 30th Senate district went for Joe Biden by a margin of 56 percent to 43 percent over Donald Trump.[1] If the same swing were to be recorded in 2024 as occurred between 2020 and 2023 in the 30th district statewide, Joe Biden would lose Virginia, a state he won by 10 percent three years ago.

The shift in the 82nd district is perhaps less dramatic. Glenn Youngkin won it by 2 percent in 2021, while Joe Biden carried it by a margin of 54.76 percent to 4.07 percent in 2020. On Tuesday, the margin was 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent. If repeated statewide, that would still be enough to flip Virginia’s electoral votes.

In fact, when we look at how legislative districts voted based not on the 2021 gubernatorial results, but rather on the 2020 presidential election, rather than rebutting the recent CNN and New York Times polls showing Donald Trump leading Joe Biden, the numbers seem to confirm them.

How Biden did in 2020

# State Senate Seats

How Many the GOP won in 2023

# State House Seats

How Many the GOP won in 2023

Biden 60%+

17

0

43

0

Biden 55%-59.99%

4

0

6

0

Biden 50%-54.99%

3

3

9

7

Biden < 50%

16

16

42

42

Republicans not only won every legislative seat where Joe Biden received less than 50 percent of the vote, but every single senate seat, and seven out of nine house seats, where Joe Biden received less than 55 percent. The problem in Virginia was that there were not enough Senate seats where Biden received less than 55 percent to form a majority. In the state house, Republicans narrowly lost two seats in areas Biden won by 10 percent.

If there is one thing we learned this week, it is that Virginia still has a strong blue streak. Youngkin’s victory increasingly looks like an exceptional year rather than a lasting tack to the right. That was already evident in 2022 when Democrats won the state’s overall popular vote for U.S. House by a margin of 51.48 percent to 48.09 percent. What happened in November of 2023 looks remarkably like the results from November of 2022.

That may seem disappointing, but the GOP nevertheless won the popular vote nationally in 2022, and if that was applied state-by-state, Donald Trump would have won the Electoral College.

What was a problem for Virginia Republicans on Tuesday implies a problem for Democrats nationally going forward, because if Virginia Republicans had zero room for error building on Glenn Youngkin’s coalition, Joe Biden’s 2020 map provides equally little margin for error.

In both cases, exceptional circumstances, including the COVID-19 pandemic, proved enough – just – to allow them to scrape by. Youngkin won by less than two percent. Biden, meanwhile, won states totaling 57 electoral votes, enough to flip the election, by less than two percent, and another 22 by under three percent.

What we learned Tuesday in Virginia was that without favorable outside circumstances, the GOP could not quite repeat 2021, though it could come close. Yet if the GOP failed to repeat 2021 twice, Democrats have now failed to repeat their 10 percent victory in Virginia three times. In 2021 they lost by two percent in the overall popular vote. In 2022, they won by 3.5 percent. This year it looks like they will win by between one percent and two percent.

This brings up the recent polling from the New York Times and CNN showing Donald Trump leading Joe Biden by four percent. Many commentators have pointed to the Virginia results to suggest that these polls must be off. Perhaps they are and perhaps they are not, but the Virginia data from Tuesday would tend to support rather than undermine the polls.

If Biden won Virginia 54 percent to 44 percent in 2020, but Democrats are currently winning the state by around 52 percent to 48 percent, it would imply a national swing from a four-point Biden lead to around a two percent Trump lead.

This seems compatible with recent polling, Republicans’ 2.4 percent margin in the national House popular vote in 2022, and an environment where Democrats have lost support since 2020. But unlike in 2010 and 2014, or what happened to the GOP in 2006, Democrats have retained a high floor, ensuring the party remains competitive everywhere.

The pattern for every election has been for analysts to conflate expectations, which are subjective, with success, which is objective. In 2018, Democrats were expected to have a good year and they did, but it was nowhere near as good as 2006, and they still lost a net two Senate seats.

In 2020, Joe Biden was expected to win a landslide, but he instead snuck through in a squeaker while Democrats lost seats in the House. In 2022, Republicans were expected to make gains and they did, winning the U.S. House, but like the Democrats in 2018, they lost seats in the Senate.

Now, Republicans lost control of the Virginia legislature, but this Democrat “triumph” involved losing 10 of 12 seats where Joe Biden won between 50 percent and 55 percent of the vote. A similar result nationally in 2024 would produce a 56 to 44 GOP Senate majority and a Republican president.

After Tuesday, Republicans who failed to take this message from the 2022 midterms should internalize the reality that there will be no great Deus Ex Machina that will sweep them into power without the need for hard work or a message. They will have to fight tooth and nail for their victories.

Democrats should learn the lesson they didn’t learn after 2018, namely that they have a low ceiling, and much like the Virginia Republicans, the national playing field, especially the Senate map, leaves them no room for error. Joe Biden and his campaign, which seem to be bleeding support in all directions, should consider not whether their plans to use abortion and fear of Donald Trump will be effective, but whether they will be effective enough.

Virginia Republicans did very well by the standards and the demographic makeup of their state. They merely did not do well enough to win control of either chamber – and at the end of the day, that was what mattered.

Walter Samuel is the pseudonym of a prolific international affairs writer and academic. He has worked in Washington as well as in London and Asia, and holds a Doctorate in International History.

[1] My data is taken from VPAP the official service for the state. RCP’s Sean Trende who drew the maps pointed out on twitter the way mail-in ballots are assigned is distortionary and rather than the seat being 63-36 Biden it is probably closer to Biden+13, as many mail-in ballots are actually from parts of counties in other seats.

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PaulE
PaulE
8 months ago

What an amusing attempted spin of the actual results. Note I said attempted, because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which areas voted for Youngkin in 2021 but rather the total number of votes cast in 2023. From the perspective, it is pretty clear the Democrat Party did what they needed to do to win and stop Youngkin’s agenda dead in its tracks for the balance of his term. They flooded the state with way more money than the RNC was willing to chip in. That was used to effectively run scare tactics abortion ads non-stop to a state whose population is mostly employed by Washington, D.C.. So, was it any great stretch to think the Democrat Party would pull out all the stops to kneecap both Youngkin’s future presidential hopes and also flip the state legislature to render him an effective lame duck for the balance of his term.

Do I like the way the election in Virginia went? No, but you could see the Democrats were highly focused on both kneecapping Youngkin and taking the state legislature back from a mile away. You could also see the RNC doing little to nothing in the way of allocating resources to counter the move. So, the reality is yet another example of RNC thinking they can just coast to victory and do little to nothing to ensure that victory. No amount of spin from authors like the one above is going to change that.

Rik
Rik
8 months ago

What? Me worry? . . . This just means they will have to CHEAT MORE! . . . And they definitely will since I don’t see where Republicans have greatly addressed this issue!

Robert Zuccaro
Robert Zuccaro
8 months ago

Its so nice the taxpayer can pay Planned Parenthood $500M every year for “Not abortion” but they have so much cash to fund ads and contribute to Democrat candidates everywhere.

Dr. George R. Rivera, Jr.
Dr. George R. Rivera, Jr.
8 months ago

All this demonstrated was that a Dem controlled state supreme court forced enough jerrymandering to squeak out a Dem win. Old school chicanery at its best.

Aardvark
Aardvark
8 months ago

Over the next year or so, Americans are going to see the horrors of the Democrat party, including the rampant election fraud, war, and terrorist attacks on our soil, and will completely turn against the Uniparty (Democrats and RINOs). The military will ultimately take control and probably oversee a new election where they don’t allow ballot harvesting, ballot box stuffing, early voting, mail-in voting, voting machines, or weeks-long “counting” of ballots.

Mike
Mike
8 months ago

Interesting but regardless of the percentage swing the democrats still won and holds a majority in both legislative branches.

REDACTED
REDACTED
8 months ago

don’t be shocked if Trump takes Youngkin as his VP

Jack Coupal
Jack Coupal
8 months ago

President Joe Biden has been in charge of our economic decline (continuing price inflation, etc.) and of federal incompetence on many fronts (national border security, etc.). Missions Accomplished.
President Biden will not be running for re-election. The Democratic Party’s puzzle in store for United States of America citizens is: the person who will.

Andrew P
Andrew P
8 months ago

The GOP needs a course correction – stop trying to restrict Abortion in states like Virginia where this won’t fly and only serves to motivate normally apathetic youngsters to show up and vote. Abortion is already banned or heavily restricted in all the states that will tolerate abortion bans, and in some of these states the bans will be reversed by referendums.

Robert Rayner
Robert Rayner
8 months ago

This is inaccurate. The 82nd House District has not been called, but the incumbent Republican delegate is leading and likely to win.

Please
Please
8 months ago

Can you all keep running on abortion so we can win every election from now on? Lol

Don Smith
Don Smith
8 months ago

He would have been OK running the red light at the intersection had it not been for the fully loaded Freightliner entering at the same time from the left.

David Beiler
David Beiler
8 months ago

While this is a good analysis, it has a major error in its premise: “The 2019 and 2021 elections for the House of Delegates were conducted on maps drawn by Republicans in 2011…” Uh — no. Those maps were thrown out by the Democrat-dominated Supreme Court in 2018 and were replaced by ones drawn by Bernard Grofman, a court-appointed master who was a registered Democrat in California. Grofman was appointed for the same task again last year, but this time in tandem with Sean Trende, the RCP elections analyst. Both are supposed to be non-partisan, but Grofman is clearly a Democrat while Trende probably tilts slightly Republican.

Robert Chase
Robert Chase
8 months ago

The proximity to DC for Richmond and area is like NYC is to NY state. Unfortunately the LEFT media and LEFT Dem party swamps the airwaves with lies and dispenses tax monies to hold the floor.
Youngkin is scrappy and should still be a force to reckon with. The Blue streak in VA needs to gear up if they hope to salvage the state.

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