Voters will pick Virginia’s next governor on Tuesday, and polls show the race is tied between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin. While the race may be too close to predict, political science experts at Virginia Commonwealth University say several factors – including postal voting, participation of young people and black voters, and which candidate may elicit more enthusiasm – may affect the result.
Amanda Wintersieck, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the College of the Humanities, said she would keep an eye on participation
“Turnout is generally lower outside of federal / presidential election years, but the race for governor is competitive, which should encourage voters to participate,” she said. “Both candidates are really pushing their bases to introduce themselves and McAuliffe has called in the cavalry. [Former President Barack] Obama campaign on his behalf over the weekend and [Speaker of the House Nancy] Pelosi recently hosted a fundraising event for him.
At a Department of Political Science roundtable last week, Wintersieck said turnout for voters aged 18 to 29 could be particularly high. Citing research from Tufts University, she noted that in Virginia’s last gubernatorial election in 2017, 34% of young voters voted – a steady increase from 17% youth turnout in 2009 and 26% in 2013. In last year’s presidential election, 56% of young voters in Virginia voted, the highest youth turnout among southern states.
“This is a group that will show itself if they are engaged,” said Wintersieck. “I think we have seen the efforts of both political parties to engage young voters with varying degrees of success. If you look at the last couple of weeks you’ve seen a lot of political ads from Youngkin and McAuliffe specifically targeting young people, trying to motivate them to come forward to vote…. But it appears to have been quite ineffective, especially on the Democratic side. “
Young Republicans, she said, appear to be a little more motivated this year than young Democrats.
“McAuliffe really struggles, and he struggles because he doesn’t come to young voters with the issues they are most interested in – issues like climate change, issues like racial justice, issues like control guns and what he would do about those issues in the state of Virginia, ”she said. “And so it really comes down to a commitment gap, and maybe we don’t see that motivation to engage because the campaigns haven’t done a very good job of putting youth priorities first.” their agendas. “
Bill Bolling, a Republican who served two terms as lieutenant governor of Virginia and has taught several political science courses at VCU, told the roundtable that Republicans are under pressure. They are also in a prolonged drought in statewide elections. Democrats have won the last 13 such elections in Virginia by an average margin of 7 points.
“First of all, [Republicans are] tired of losing, ”he said. “Second, they are very concerned about the direction in which the current Democratic majorities have taken the state. And third, they’re pretty united behind their candidate for the first time in a long time, which is a remarkable accomplishment. The Republican Party has so many different wings and factions that Glenn Youngkin was able to keep them relatively together is pretty remarkable in itself.
The big question, he said, will be whether McAuliffe can close that enthusiasm gap.
“If you’re Terry McAuliffe, this race comes down to his ability to excite and get the Democratic Party’s grassroots vote – and that’s the black vote,” Bolling said. “If he can get black votes in places like Richmond and Henrico and Norfolk and Portsmouth and Newport News and Hampton, he will win this election. If the Democratic Party’s base vote comes forward, Terry McAuliffe will win this election. Because there are simply more Democrats than Republicans in Virginia these days.
“What comes down to this race, if you’re Terry McAuliffe, is its ability to excite and get the Democratic Party’s grassroots vote – and that’s the black vote. If he can get black votes in places like Richmond and Henrico and Norfolk and Portsmouth and Newport News and Hampton, he will win.
Alex Keena, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science, said he would monitor the effects of postal voting – which was expanded by the Democratic-led General Assembly earlier this year – in the midst of ‘a historically low rate -election outside the year of participation.
“One of the consequences of our odd-year calendar that we have in Virginia is that only a fraction of the electorate bother to show up and vote. And who are the people who actually vote in an odd year? These are the more educated voters, people who tend to be wealthier, older, whiter than the rest of the population, ”Keena said. “But I want to see if the Democrats’ ability to get an expanded postal vote actually has an impact on voter turnout rates. Because it is important to note that… the number of voters is not fixed. Candidates have an impact on the number of their supporters who actually show up to the polls. And if you’re a Democrat, it’s much easier to get people to send a ballot months before Election Day than it is to get them to show up on that day for a 1-hour window.
Another factor, Keena said, will be the impact of the Republicans’ strategy to question election legitimacy and electoral integrity.
“Maybe Republicans could actually be hurt that most of their constituents are running on election day. [rather than mailing in a ballot]”Keen said.” It requires coordination of their collective action. And so I want to see: What do Republicans get out of it? This Republican strategy of doubling the turnout on election day will help their efforts really? “
David Kerr, an adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science, said McAuliffe was the odds-winner but found himself in a tighter race than expected and did not adjust his strategy accordingly.
“McAuliffe, who never had the chance to have solid poll numbers, was obviously the man to beat. And Youngkin, linked to Trump and unknown, didn’t seem like the man to beat him, ”Kerr said. “But it was all turned upside down. Mainly because of McAuliffe’s inability to pivot.
McAuliffe mainly worked on his experience of being the 72nd governor of Virginia, Kerr said.
“Youngkin doesn’t have such a strong platform but has a ‘look to the future’ for his campaign which McAuliffe does not have,” he said. “Younkin’s ‘from the first day’, a phrase he uses in many of his speeches, resonates. And now the race is decidedly close. What McAuliffe lacks is the ability to counterattack. The ability to pivot. Come up with a defense, or better yet, a new story, present it to people, and quickly. What I would do: Explain how all of my vast experience as governor is exactly what we need to deal with the problems of today.
Subscribe to VCU News
Subscribe to VCU News at newsletter.vcu.edu and receive a selection of stories, videos, photos, news clips and event listings delivered to your inbox.