Democrats may control both chambers of Congress, but there are multiple reasons why the party should be concerned about the upcoming statewide election in the state of Virginia.
In a piece published by The Washington Post, data scientist Lenny Bronner notes that the Virginia governor's race may be much closer than Democrats would like considering President Joe Biden won the state by more than 10 points less than one year ago.
Bronner pointed out that available early voting data suggests Democrats aren't turning out as enthusiastically for the race as they did in 2020. This implies, he argues, that the Democratic candidate can't expect to win by as much as Biden did — and may not win at all:
Although Virginia does not have party voter registration — meaning we don't necessarily know how many registered Democrats have voted vs. registered Republicans — we can get a sense for the partisanship of the electorate by looking at past primary participation.
When doing so, we can see that the number of votes coming from voters that voted in the Democratic primary outnumber those cast by voters who participated in the Republican primary by around 2 to 1.
This sounds encouraging to Democrats, but it's actually slightly worse than they had been doing at this point before the 2020 election, when the ratio of Democratic primary voters to Republican primary voters was closer to three to one.
Overall, turnout is far lower than in 2020, though that shouldn't be much of a surprise, as he explained:
"When looking at absentee and early in-person voting this year, it's important to remember that last year's Presidential election was unusual — in that it was held during the peak of the pandemic, with more than 100 million Americans deciding to vote early because of that and the expanded access to mail balloting that came along with it. In Virginia, 2.7 million voters chose that option instead of going to the polls on election day."
Yet Bronner pointed to other indications that Democrats might be in trouble:
"There's both some tough history and some warnings signs for Democrats involved. In the past, the party that won the presidency has often lost the Virginia governor's election (though importantly, this didn't happen the last time the Democrats won the White House in 2013). This is particularly worrisome for Democrats because President Biden's approval rating has been falling significantly, including in Virginia. Also, while former governor Terry McAuliffe (D) is leading in the polling averages, the numbers have been too close for Democrats' comfort — including the most recent Monmouth University poll, which put McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin dead-even."
Virginia Democrats may be faced with some concerns, but the silver lining is that most voters have not cast ballots yet. So the election could still swing in Democratic favor. What the result means for the national political scene will undoubtedly be hotly debated.