The full picture of what exactly happened on election night 2021 won’t be available for some time. Final results need to be settled, exit polls adjusted to match those results, precinct-by-precinct numbers pored over. The reasons for Republican Glenn Youngkin ’s win over Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia will be debated, as will the reasons why Democrats were able to force a split in the state House of Delegates even as the GOP swept statewide races in the Old Dominion.
But there are some clear takeaways: President Joe Biden ’s low approval rating hurt McAuliffe, and so did his own flat campaign. The sky-high turnout numbers of the Donald Trump era are here to stay. And the Republican Party’s focus on critical race theory works ― at least a little. Republican Glenn Youngkin (above) focused on the school board wars while his rival, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, relentlessly tried to tie him to Donald Trump. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images) The winner of the governor’s race was somewhat beside the point.
Who wins the Virginia governor’s race obviously matters tremendously for the governance of Virginia, but the race was close enough that the 2-percentage-point shift necessary to make McAuliffe the winner wouldn’t necessarily change the political takeaways. And the major takeaway is obvious: Democrats are going to face a tough political environment in 2022, like almost every party in U.S. history has when they control the White House.
In recent history, the partisan swing of the Virginia governor’s race has been closely correlated with the partisan swing of the next year’s popular vote in U.S. House elections, according to an analysis from The Economist’s G. Eliot Morris. The fact that the race was close at all after incumbent Gov. Ralph Northam won by 9 percentage points four years ago indicates Democrats are likely on pace to lose control of the House of Representatives.
Democrats spent much of the spring crafting dreamy scenarios where they would buck historical trends ― voters would reward Biden for getting the coronavirus vaccine, parents would love the hundreds of dollars they received every month with the child tax credit ― but the surge of the delta variant of the coronavirus and Biden’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan moved public opinion enough to put those fantasies to bed. The Democrat’s approval rating is now in the tank.