Glenn Youngkin campaigns at a rally in Roanoke County. Photo by Dwayne Yancey.

It has been said that figures lie and liars figure. That’s a fancy way of saying that we can put too much credence in statistics, but it’s such fun to analyze things! In that spirit, I have been analyzing some of the results from Tuesdays elections and thought I would share some interesting statistics with you.

VOTER TURNOUT: Voter turnout in this year’s election was historic. To quote Donald Trump, it was HUGE! Seriously, it was. For example, in 2017 voter turnout was 47%. This year, it appears to be around 60%. There were 672,946 more votes cast this year than in 2020. That’s HUGE! So, what drove this historic voter turnout? I would suggest two things:First, alternative voting methods. More voters are voting early and voting by absentee ballot. In the 2020 presidential election Republicans resisted these alternative voting methods and it cost them big time, but they embraced them in 2021. The results speak for themselves. Second, Republican enthusiasm. While Democrats may have been a bit complacent about this year’s election, Republicans were not. They were unified behind their candidate – tired of losing and concerned about the direction of the state. They turned out, in big numbers, especially in rural Virginia. (more on that to follow)

THE NUMBERS: Interestingly, Terry McAuliffe received 184,923 more votes in 2021 than Ralph Northam did in 2017. That’s an increase of 13%. My guess is that McAuliffe hit his vote targets, which may have made his loss surprising to his strategists and supporters. But Glenn Youngkin received 488,023 more votes in 2021 than Ed Gillespie received in 2017. That’s an increase of 41%! Who saw that coming? I didn’t. I really thought that voter turnout would have been consistent with 2017. Perhaps a bit higher, but not 13% higher. There was obviously a great deal of interest in this election by both Republicans and Democrats, but more so by Republicans.

YOUNGKIN’S STRENGTH: Youngkin did better in Northern Virginia than Ed Gillespie did in 2017. In three key Northern Virginia localities, Youngkin boosted his performance over Gillespie – by 3% in Fairfax, by 4% in Loudoun County and by 5% in Prince William County – but McAuliffe still won these localities by big margins:

Fairfax County (64% – 35%)

Loudoun County (55% – 44%)

Prince William County (57% – 43%)

However, even though Youngkin’s improvement in these Northern Virginia localities was marginal, it still resulted in a gain of about 25,000 votes when compared to 2017 due to the large number of votes cast in these localities. But Youngkin did VERY well in rural parts of the state, where turnout was VERY high, almost at presidential campaign levels. For example, in the five largest rural counties, Youngkin boosted his margins considerably when compared to Gillespie’s 2017 performance:

Hanover County – +15,000 votes

Frederick County – +12,000 votes

Bedford County – +10,000 votes

Rockingham County – +10,000 votes

Augusta County – +10,000 votes.

That’s 57,000 votes in just those five rural localities. Similar results were seen in several other rural localities. Rural Virginia voted in very large numbers, and that accounted for much of Youngkin’s strength. Rural Virginia was tired of being overlooked, and they made up for that this year!

MCAULIFFE’S WEAKNESS: As noted above, McAuliffe received 184,923 more votes in 2021 than Ralph Northam received in 2017, but Democratic enthusiasm was clearly not as high as Republican enthusiasm, something the pre-election polls picked up. Consider these numbers:In 14 of Virginia’s largest localities, McAuliffe’s vote totals were up by an average of 11% when compared to 2017. However, in these same localities Glenn Youngkin’s vote totals were up by an average of 36%! That signals much greater enthusiasm among Republicans for their candidate vs. the Democrats for their candidate. But perhaps McAuliffe’s greatest failure, and I called this one, was his inability to turn out the Black vote in Virginia’s center cities. The vote totals in these Democratic strongholds were up, but only marginally so. For example, when analyzing vote totals in Virginia’s most populous cities with major Black populations we find that the increase in total votes cast in 2021 was only slightly higher than the total votes case in 2017:

Richmond – +4%

Norfollk – +1%

Portsmouth – (.03%) – actually less than 2017

Hampton – +3%

Newport News – +6%

Imagine what would have happened if voter turnout in these center cities had been up by 11% when compared to 2017. It could have made a big difference for McAuliffe, but the numbers suggest that Blacks were simply not as motivated to vote for McAuliffe as he needed them to be. Their vote totals were more in line with 2017 numbers, not the much higher 2021 numbers.

So, what are the key takeaways from this quick analysis? I think they are fourfold:

First, there was a great deal of interest in this campaign, which produced the highest voter turnout in a gubernatorial election in Virginia history.

Second, voter enthusiasm among Republicans, especially in rural parts of the state, was extremely high, and they voted in disproportionate numbers when compared to Democrats.

Third, Glenn Youngkin performed marginally better in Northern Virginia, likely driven by the focus he put – or McAuliffe gave him – on liberal education policy.

Fourth, the strongest base of the Democratic Party – Black voters, did not turn out for Terry McAuliffe in the numbers he needed to win.

I’m sure others will analyze this election in far more detail than I have done, but I’m betting they come to same conclusions I have drawn.

Bill Bolling

Bill Bolling served as Lieutenant Governor of Virginia from 2006-2014. He now teaches government and politics at George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University.