Close race in Virginia may be the result of Hispanic and Asian voters moving toward the GOP

Close race in Virginia may be the result of Hispanic and Asian voters moving toward the GOP
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

There are so many nightmares for Democrats in a possible GOP win in Virginia that it’s hard to know which one is the worst. Obviously the fact that the party couldn’t get its act together on the reconciliation bill prior to election day is a bad sign. It really does make it look as if Democrats can’t get anything done because of the infighting between moderates and progressives.

Then there’s the fact that a potential loss in Virginia can’t just be blamed solely on Terry McAuliffe. Democrats pulled out all the stops on this one. Everyone from Barack Obama to VP Harris to President Biden himself came out and campaigned for McAuliffe. And yet polls seem to show a dead heat. Even the big guns couldn’t swing the tide in a state that voted overwhelmingly for Biden last year. The AP is reporting the race looks like a referendum on the Biden administration.

But there’s another concern which really ought to have Democrats worried about the future. Despite losing the White House and control of the Senate, Republicans had a pretty good showing in the House last year. Instead of losing a dozen or more seats as many forecasts predicted, the GOP gained a lot of seats. And hidden in the data from those results was an indication that Republicans had done much better than expected with some Hispanic voters, and not just Cuban voters in Miami.

There were lots of think-pieces at the time about why this was happening but the most convincing argument (to me at least) was that Democrats had moved so far left that it was turning off some minority voters. Matt Yglesias simplified this as the “Latinx problem,” referring to the made-up word used by the far left to more inclusively describe Latino voters despite the fact that most of those voters say they don’t like the word. However you want to frame it, there was some evidence that Trump and the GOP were outperforming with Hispanic voters in 2020.

All of that comes to mind as I read this opinion piece in the Washington Post about why the Virginia governor’s race is so close. Henry Olsen argues that the voting patterns of white and black voters in the state haven’t changed much from the previous election which Democrat Ralph Northam won handily. So the tightening race must be the result of changes elsewhere:

The 2021 polls all show the race essentially tied. What’s interesting is that the shifts they show among White and Black voters do not explain why the race is so close. Youngkin’s 16.4 percent advantage with White voters is not much more than Gillespie’s 15 points. And given that White and Black voters have not changed much in terms of the share of likely voters, McAuliffe should be well ahead of Youngkin, even if his margin is tighter than Northam’s.

The fact that this is not the case means other forces must be at play: Hispanics, Asians and other non-White voters must have shifted dramatically toward the GOP since 2017. These are smaller, but still significant, demographics in the state. Most of the polls don’t report these subgroups separately because they are too small to be individually reliable. But those who do support this conclusion. Emerson College’s poll, for example, shows Youngkin and McAuliffe running almost even among Hispanics…

This means that we should expect Youngkin to do significantly better across Northern Virginia than Gillespie did four years ago. He may not win Loudoun County, for example, but he might lose it by much less than the 20 points that Gillespie lost it by in 2017. Youngkin will also do much better in Hispanic strongholds such as Manassas, Manassas Park and Prince William County if he is gaining ground among Latinos.

Of course everything could look different tonight or tomorrow once the results are in but at the moment there’s some reason to suspect that the shift we saw in 2020 with some Hispanic voters is continuing. As for Asian voters, it makes sense that a campaign focused on education and parental control would concern them. We’re seeing essentially the same thing right now in San Francisco where three members of the school board are now set for a recall vote. Opponents of that recall have attempted to frame it as a conservative effort but in fact the people behind the recall are mostly liberal and many of them are Asian parents upset by specific decisions, like the one that ended competitive admissions at Lowell High School, where Asians were a majority of the student body. They were also upset by one of the board members referring to Asian parents as akin to white supremacists in their pursuit of success through education.

I’m sure there will be a lot more to come on this topic but as it looks right now, the Democrats may have put themselves in jeopardy by moving too far left for some minorities in their traditional constituency. If so this will be another hit for the idea that Democrats have demographic destiny on their side.

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