The Democratic-affiliated data firm Civis Analytics just finished crunching the 2021 voter data numbers from Virginia and New Jersey. Obviously, turnout went up from 2017. In Democratic precincts, turnout increased 6 to 8 percent from four years earlier. In Republican precincts, turnout was up 12 to 13 percent. Clearly, this is a big part of the story of 2021. But this stood out to me even more:
Vote switching accounts for about 80% of the shifts in each state from Biden in 2020 to the Democratic candidates for governor in 2021. Changes in turnout only account for about two-tenths of overall movement1. In terms of the final margin, a switched vote is worth twice as much to the recipient because one side loses a vote while the other side gains one.
Before 2020, I believed that our elections were always going to be about turnout more than persuasion. People had their worldviews and the only question was what types of messages or candidates would motivate each side to vote. But as I said after 2020, I was wrong. Despite the increased polarization that is driving our politics these days, people are actually changing their minds as well.
So that means that Gov. Glenn Youngkin owes his win as much to Biden voters as any single other factor. At first glance, this sounds like a good thing. It means that partisanship, for one, isn’t as strong as we think. But I also doubt these vote switchers all look the same. Some are no doubt political independents who have been left behind by both parties in some form or fashion. But others are perhaps so frustrated with the direction of the country that they are most open to messaging that blames whomever is in office for the sorry state of affairs.