The Makeup of This Year's Voter Turnout Could Determine Election

Nov 2, 2017

Voters are headed to the polls this month to vote for three statewide races and every member of the House of Delegates. But the electorate this year will not look like the one that turned out last year for the presidential election.

72% of registered voters turned out at the polls last year for the presidential election. That’s about 66% of people who were eligible to vote. Geoff Skelley at the University of Virginia Center for Politics says election officials are expecting a little more than half of that turnout this year.

Credit AP Photo / Alexander F. Yuan

“The electorate ends up usually being older and whiter, which are good things for Republicans. At the same time, the electorate will very likely be much more well educated comparatively speaking versus a presidential contest. And given recent trends in politics, that might be slightly good news for Democrats.”

White voters with a college education are trending toward the Democrats while white voters without a college education are trending toward the Republicans.

Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University points out Democrats tend to do better when turnout is higher.

“43% got Terry McAuliffe a win over Ken Cuccinelli. But 40.4% got Bob McDonnell a big win over Creigh Deeds in 2009. So the magic marker line is somewhere between 40 and 43%.”

In other words, if turnout of registered voters is closer to 40%, Republican Ed Gillespie will have an edge. But if turnout is closer to 43%, Democrat Ralph Northam will have a significant advantage.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association