After Tuesday’s election, Glenn Youngkin (R) was voted to be the 74th governor of Virginia, winning against former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and third-party candidate Princess Blanding (LP).
At approximately 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 3, the Associated Press called the race for Youngkin. The latest update to the unofficial results has Youngkin leading with 50.80% of the votes, McAuliffe with 48.43% and Blanding with 0.69% of the votes, according to the Virginia Department of Elections website.
This closely watched gubernatorial election, largely between career politician McAuliffe and political outsider Youngkin, represents a change in recent Virginia politics. Out of the past 10 gubernatorial elections, seven Democrats have won, and the Republican party hasn’t won the governor’s seat since 2009.
Martin Cohen, professor of political science, said the Virginia election was being examined across the nation because it shows the U.S. how voters are feeling about the performance of the newly elected president and the political parties.
Cohen said that leading up to the election, the poll results between Youngkin and Mcauliffe were very close. While polls aren’t entirely accurate because of difficulties getting in contact with voters, Cohen said that many felt like Youngkin was gaining traction.
“It seems that there was an enthusiasm gap, that people noticed that Republicans were more excited than Democrats about this race,” Cohen said. “That often can be the difference in a state that is not as blue as people thought.”
Cohen said voters in Virginia — and more so the nation — are fairly evenly divided along party lines. In the U.S., 34% of registered voters identify as independents, 33% identify as Democrats and 29% identify as Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center analysis. Cohen said the narrow divide can cause small changes to shift control within the state government.
Carah Ong Whaley, associate director for the Center for Civic Engagement, said the race was looked at so closely because Virginia can be a “trendsetter” for states across the country. She said it can also act as a “thermometer” to gauge what will happen in future elections in the state.
Whaley said she believes there are several factors that contributed to the Republican win. She said Democrats have historically had a lower turnout during off-year elections. She also said that out of the last 12 gubernatorial races, the president’s party has lost the election in 11 of them. Cohen said historically, the party that holds the presidency doesn’t do well in Virginia.
“People, I think, get impatient with the new president,” Cohen said. “The last few presidents have had difficulty starting out in their terms.”
There was increased voter turnout in the Shenandoah Valley among Republican voters, Whaley said, and Youngkin ran an “admirable” campaign.
“There was a wide variety of factors that led to it being a good environment for Republicans to really mobilize their base, and Mr. Youngkin ran an excellent campaign,” Whaley said. “He outperformed Trump and outperformed expectations.”
After winning, Youngkin gave his remarks, thanking his supporters and family and reaffirming his goals of investing in schools, cutting taxes and increasing funding for law enforcement, among other things, once entering office.
“Together, we will change the trajectory of this,” Youngkin said. “We are going to start that transformation on day one.”
Whaley said other possible reasons for the win are components related to the pandemic, like mandates regarding vaccines and the economy. Cohen said elections during a pandemic would be difficult for incumbents.
“If [the President] is presiding over a time where things are very bleak, then obviously voters are unhappy and they’re sour and will take it out on the incumbent party,” Cohen said. “Until the pandemic is … sparingly under control, it’s going to be hard for parties to stay in power.”
Moving forward, Cohen said, the outcome of this election gives Democrats something to consider when creating policy and messaging for the midterm. Cohen said it’s now up to the Democrats to please the American public with policies if they want to “stem the tide” that’s against the party in power during the first midterm.
“The Democrats’ control of the House and the Senate, especially, are very much in jeopardy,” Cohen said. “I think if the Democrats don’t figure out how to … do something that positively affects Americans’ lives, then they’re going to get stomped again.”
McAuliffe and current governor Ralph Northam (D) both released statements congratulating Youngkin on his victory on Wednesday.
“While last night we came up short, I am proud that we spent this campaign fighting for the values we so deeply believe in,” McAuliffe said in his statement. “While there will be setbacks along the way, I am confident that the long term path of Virginia is toward inclusion, openness and tolerance for all.”
Cohen encouraged students to get involved in politics, both if they were excited by the results of the election or if they were disappointed by it.
“Elections have consequences, policies will change because of this,” Cohen said. “If you didn’t participate and you’re upset, then, you know, obviously, that’s easy to fix.”
When it comes to JMU student participation in elections, Whaley said engagement goes beyond voting. She encouraged students to pay attention to issues after election day.
“The election is one day, but policymaking happens all the time,” Whaley said. “It’s really important to participate in those processes — perhaps even more so than just casting a ballot.”