Don’t Celebrate Yet Virginia

I recently renewed my Virginia citizenship after a lapse of 18 years. It’s great to be back in the Old Dominion, especially given the prospect of a Republican governor and a Republican House of Delegates come January. There’s also a good chance that next year’s Senate elections will give the GOP complete control of the Virginia legislature.

Gratifying as the resurgence of Virginia’s GOP may be, I’m not ready to declare Virginia’s return to Red-ness.  For one thing, there’s an underlying trend toward Blue-ness, which shows up in Virginia’s presidential election results:

Derived from Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. The series for Virginia begins with the gubernatorial election of 1949,which is the earliest for which Leip as posted popular-vote tallies.

The GOP’s edge in the presidential election peaked in 1968, the year of George Wallace, who (in the South) siphoned votes from the Democrat candidate. If 1968 doesn’t suit as a peak year, because of the Wallace effect, then the peak certainly occurred in 1984, with the re-election of Ronald Reagan. In either case, the GOP candidate’s share of Virginia’s presidential vote has been in decline for decades, and seems unlikely to recover unless there is a nationwide shift away from the Democrat party. Such a shift might occur, given the Dems’ suicide pact with the far-left, but cooler heads may yet prevail among party leaders.

It’s true that the downswing in the GOP’s hold on Virginia’s governorship hasn’t been as pronounced — which supports Tip O’Neill’s observation that all politics are local. But the GOP’s edge in the past has been much greater than the razor-thin victory eked out by Glenn Youngkin in the recent election.

Nor is that victory especially impressive when the swing toward the GOP in 2021 is compared with earlier swings:

Source: Leip’s Atlas.

What probably happened in the 2021 election is what seems to have been happening since the early 1970s. The Virginia gubernatorial election reflects a typical “mid-term” reaction to the previous year’s presidential election. When the GOP presidential candidate racks up a gain relative to the showing of the GOP candidate four years earlier (a positive “swing”), the GOP gubernatorial candidate racks up a loss relative to the showing of the GOP candidate four years earlier (a negative “swing”). And conversely.

So, I won’t count the GOP’s Virginia chickens until they hatch. But, in the meantime, I will savor the (hope of) restoration of some sanity to Virginia’s politics.