Virginia’s Gubernatorial 2021 Election: Is it An Indicator for 2021?

Michael Vidal ’22

The off year elections are often overlooked in American politics, but they hold significant value and can foreshadow future elections, particularly the midterm elections. The major off year elections this November were the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey and the mayoral race in New York City. 

While New York City had a decisive Democratic victory, Virginia and New Jersey’s results were quite different. New Jersey only reelected their Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, by three points despite polling showing a larger lead for him. Moreover, in Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, a first-time candidate, won against former governor Terry McAuliffe by about two points in a state Biden won by ten, a massive shift. So, what does this say about the midterms next year?

Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Democratic-leaning and trending Virginia speaks volumes, particularly against a former governor. He initially struggled in polling but eventually took the lead in the RCP polling average. He did so in the midst of Democratic in-fighting in Congress, Joe Biden’s dipping approval rating, and making education a major issue for voters. 

Education, particularly in staunchly Democratic Northern Virginia, was a critical point of interest for parents. Youngkin also walked a delicate dance with former President Trump, accepting his endorsement but preventing him from campaigning in-person in Virginia. This was smart due to Donald Trump’s historic double-digit loss in Virginia last year and that it made Youngkin more attractive to disaffected suburban voters, particularly in the Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Virginia Beach areas. 

In addition, Trump’s endorsement helped Youngkin have high Trump turnout in now staunchly Republican southwest Virginia. When Terry McAuliffe attempted to tie Youngkin to Trump continuously, voters were likely confused, as Trump was not present in the state. Voters wanted to move on from the Trump years and McAuliffe’s focus on the past did not help him.

When looking at the exit polls, this electorate had a higher percentage of white and elderly voters, also aiding Youngkin, due to their Republican-leaning tendencies. His performances were mostly similar to Virginia in 2020 demographically with one major exception: white women. These voters went from supporting Biden by one point in 2020 to supporting Youngkin by fourteen points in 2021, a fifteen point shift.

This voting bloc was likely suburban mothers, which were former Republicans or independents that voted for President Biden due to his more affable personality. Their concerns about education and past school closures were a major issue. This raises a question: will Republicans use this strategy in battleground states or Democratic-leaning states in 2022?

As Biden’s numbers continue to decrease nationwide, this approach may likely be the winning ticket. By winning Trump’s endorsement without having him campaign with them, candidates should win their races on the house and Senate level. Finally, the non-partisan Cook Political Report moved three Senate races, Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada, from “lean Democrat” to “toss up.” These ratings, Biden’s approval rating, and Virginia’s gubernatorial results indicate a common trend: a Republican takeover of Congress in 2022.