On Wednesday I did a little exit poll exercise that seemed to indicate that an unexpectedly high turnout among African-Americans was the key to Terry McAuliffe’s victory. A fair number of other folks earlier or later noted that the racial voting patterns seemed to look more like a presidential than an off-year race, but what interested me is that the black vote appeared to be the only major departure from the 2009 composition.
Now comes the magisterial Ruy Teixeira at TNR with a deeper look at Virginia, and he, too, focuses on the unexpected composition of the electorate:
In 2009, Virginia voters were 78 percent white and 22 percent minority. In 2013, they were just 72 percent white and 28 percent minority—not far off the 70/30 split in the 2012 presidential election. There you have the key to McAuliffe’s victory: Despite performing much better among white voters than the hapless Creigh Deeds, McDonnell’s Democratic opponent, McAuliffe would nevertheless have lost this election if the white/minority voter distribution had mirrored that of 2009. It was the increase in the minority vote that put him over the top.
But here’s the thing: according to the exits, the Hispanic/Asian percentage of the vote came in this year at 2009 (5%), not 2012 (8%) levels. And the age composition of the electorate was very much like that of 2009, not 2012. Nor was there any “super sizing” of the overall electorate; total turnout was up a bit from 2009, but nowhere remotely close to presidential levels. So what we are looking at is not some sudden change in the overall size or configuration of the off-year vote, but a pretty isolated but very significant surge in African-American turnout.
Ruy has no particular explanation for this phenomenon; nor have I. I’ve heard a few random folk cite the pre-election voter purge executed by Virginia (about 37,000 people suspected of dual registrations were disqualified, not the kind of purge most likely to overwhelmingly target minorities) as a provocation to black voters. And there’s a general sense that the McAuliffe campaign devoted a significant portion of its abundant resources to GOTV efforts, which would naturally affect African-American turnout. But that was quite a surge in the black vote, and Democrats looking ahead to 2014 ought to go to school on it.