Virginia: What was behind the shift of White women toward the GOP?

FAN Editor

In the Virginia race for governor, exit polls showed a big shift among White women voters, a group that made up more than a third of the state’s electorate.  In 2020, they roughly split their votes for president, but this year, they backed the Republican candidate for governor by 14 points.

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What’s behind this swing?

Much of this shift comes from White women without college degrees.  They voted for Republican Glenn Youngkin over Democrat Terry McAuliffe by nearly 50 points. Donald Trump’s margin over Joe Biden with this segment of women voters was 12 points, a far smaller margin.

There was little change in vote preference among White women with college degrees. They mostly remained in the Democratic camp.  McAuliffe’s winning margin with this group was similar to Joe Biden’s in 2020. 

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In recent elections, we’ve seen divides among White voters by education: College-educated voters have been more likely to vote Democratic and those without college degrees more likely to vote Republican, but the shift among the latter group in this election is notable.

Here’s a closer look at what drove the vote among this group of women voters:

President Biden: High negatives for his presidency

Sixty-three percent of White women without college degrees said they “strongly disapprove” of the job Biden is doing as president. This figure is higher than the 56% of voters in this demographic group who voted against Biden in 2020. Moreover, four in 10 White women without degrees said one reason for their vote in the race for governor was to oppose Biden.  

Most liked Youngkin… and they liked him more than Trump

Considering their strong support for Youngkin, it’s not that surprising that this group of women voters were far more likely to have a favorable view of him than McAuliffe, but more of them also had a positive opinion of Youngkin compared to former President Trump. Seventy-two percent of White women without college degrees viewed Youngkin favorably, while 60% viewed Trump favorably.

Strong support for parental involvement in schools

Youngkin made schools and education a key part of his campaign, and this resonated with White women without college degrees. Two-thirds said parents should have “a lot” of say in what’s taught in their child’s school, compared to just 39% of White women with degrees who said parents should have that much say.

Democrats can win elections, and often have, without majority support from White voters without college degrees — both men and women. But it becomes more difficult for them to assemble a majority coalition with such low support from such a large group.  

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