Virginia Gubernatorial Election 2021 Analysis

Republican newcomer Glenn Youngkin beat former Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe in Tuesday’s Virginia Governor race by over 79,000 votes as of this writing, with absentee votes still being counted through Friday.

Although polling in the last few weeks of October showed Youngkin catching up to McAuliffe after trailing him for much of the election, the bulk of pre-election polls favored McAuliffe.

Tuesday’s race saw record high voter turnout levels that far surpassed the 2013 Governor’s race between McAuliffe and GOP candidate Ken Cuccinelli, and a huge showing in rural regions that turned out for Trump in 2020. The marginal increase in the 89 jurisdictions the GOP won in 2013 and again in 2021 totals 269,500 votes. Meanwhile, the Democrat marginal increase in Northern Virginia was just 127,235 votes.

Youngkin’s surprise victory can be attributed to four factors:

  • Unprecedented turnout rates in Trump regions – in the 61 localities where Trump won over 60% of the vote in 2020, the average turnout rate Tuesday was 57.3%, compared to 39.4% for the 2013 Governor’s race.
  • A return to GOP strength in the Tidewater region of the state – with a big jump in net support out of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake Cities.
  • Modest movement with suburbanites and college-educated White men – Youngkin won college-educated White men and the DC Suburbs by six points more than Trump.
  • Little net increase for the Democrats among Black voters, and a modest shift toward Youngkin among Black women.
Massive Turnout in Trump Counties

Turnout rates Tuesday in rural parts of the state where Trump won heavily in 2020 far surpassed previous Governor’s races, and white working-class counties overwhelmed the suburbs.

In the 61 localities where Trump won over 60% of the vote in 2020, the average turnout rate Tuesday was 57.3%, compared to 39.4% for the 2013 Governor’s race. In comparison, for the 27 localities where Trump won less than 40% of the vote, the turnout rate Tuesday was 49.7%, compared to 38.27% in 2013.

Turnout rates Tuesday ranged from 70.8% in Goochland County – which Trump won by 3,281 votes in 2020 and Youngkin won by 4,692 Tuesday – to 37.6% in Petersburg City, which Biden won by 10,805 votes in 2020 and McAuliffe won by slightly less (6,331).

Of the thirty-eight localities with voter turnout rates over 60%, Youngkin won all but two – Falls Church and Albemarle County. The remaining thirty-six localities went to Youngkin. Trump also won all but four in 2020.

Youngkin Won Every Single Trump Locality Plus Flipped Twelve

Youngkin delivered a very strong showing in Trump country, winning all eighty-seven localities Trump won in 2020 plus flipping twelve won by Biden. Youngkin won a combined 40,579 votes more than McAuliffe did in the twelve localities he flipped from Biden.

Two of Youngkin’s biggest showings were in the Tidewater region of the state, in Virginia beach and Chesapeake. In Virginia Beach Youngkin beat McAuliffe by 13,324 votes when Biden won the region by almost as much (12,306 votes) in 2020. Virginia Beach went for Cuccinelli in 2013 by just 2,137, meaning Youngkin’s showing on Tuesday was even stronger.

As for Chesapeake, Biden won the region by 8,197 votes in 2020 and Youngkin won it back for the GOP by 5,485 on Tuesday.

On the other end of the spectrum, Youngkin captured Hopewell City by just a 17 votes and Surry County by just 28, where Biden won them by 1,410 votes and 372 votes respectively.

Below are the twelve localities Youngkin flipped from Biden, and the raw vote margin for the winner each year.

Locality Winner 2021 Winner 2020 Raw Vote Win Margin 2021 Raw Vote Win Margin 2020
Virginia Beach City Youngkin Biden 13324 12306
Chesterfield County Youngkin Biden 7394 13609
Stafford County Youngkin Biden 6319 2609
Chesapeake City Youngkin Biden 5485 8197
Lynchburg City Youngkin Biden 2723 951
James City County Youngkin Biden 2274 2400
Montgomery County Youngkin Biden 1842 2589
Prince Edward County Youngkin Biden 677 539
Radford City Youngkin Biden 391 572
Northampton County Youngkin Biden 105 712
Surry County Youngkin Biden 28 372
Hopewell City Youngkin Biden 17 1410
Modest Gains from Suburbanites and College Educated White Men

In addition, Youngkin improved on two groups the GOP needs to be careful not to lose, college-educated white men and suburbanites. While Trump won college-educated White men in Virginia 49% to 46% in 2020, Youngkin won them 55% to 44% on Tuesday.

Men with children favored Youngkin 59% to 41%, and were evenly split between Biden and Trump in 2020 (49% to 49%).

McAuliffe still overwhelmingly won the DC suburbs like Biden did, but Youngkin improved on Trump’s numbers with suburbanites, winning 36% to Trump’s 30%.

Youngkin also improved on Trump’s numbers in Hampton Roads, winning 46% of the vote compared to Trump’s 36%. In Richmond/Southside, Youngkin won 50% of the vote, to Trump’s 42%.

Democrats Saw Little Net Increase in Support Among Black Voters

Another significant contribution to Youngkin’s victory was lagging Black support for Democrats, as evidenced by lower net margins in cities with significant African American populations and exit polls indicating a slight shift toward Youngkin.

In Richmond, which includes a large Black population, Biden won by 75,572 votes in 2020 and he won 83% of the vote, but McAuliffe won by 44,993 votes and won 77% of the vote, showing no increase for Democrats. Voter turnout was less than fifty percent, at 48.42%.

In Hampton City, which includes a fairly large African American population, Biden won by 27,790 votes and he won 70% of the vote in 2020, but McAuliffe won by only 15,133 votes and won a slightly lower percentage of the vote (66%).

Norfolk City, which has a modest share of African Americans as well, also saw no net increase for Democrats. Biden won Norfolk City by 40,997 votes and 72.3% of the vote, while McAuliffe won by almost half as many votes (21,106) and 67%.

In addition, exit polls show Youngkin was slightly less popular with Black men than Trump, and significantly more popular with Black women than Trump. Youngkin lost 1 point with Black men compared to Trump in 2020 but gained three points compared to Cuccinelli in 2013.

Youngkin won double the share of Black women compared to Cuccinelli in 2013, bringing the GOP share of the vote from 7% to 14%. He also nearly doubled his share of the Black female vote compared to Trump in 2020.

As for McAuliffe, Democrats lost 5 points with Black women between 2013 and 2021 and 3 points with Black men. Below is the split for Black men and women from 2013 to 2020 and 2021.

Virginia Black Vote