VCU political science chair discusses Virginia election results

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A highly charged political atmosphere and a scarcity of contested statewide offices in the United States this election cycle placed Virginia squarely in the national spotlight Tuesday, when voters cast their ballots for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, as well as for their local representatives in the House of Delegates. The result was a Democratic wave that placed Ralph Northam in the governor’s office, made Justin Fairfax the next lieutenant governor and returned Mark Herring to the attorney general’s post. In addition, Democrats flipped at least 15 seats in the House of Delegates. The newest delegates include Danica Roem, a transgender woman, who drew national headlines when she defeated longtime incumbent Bob Marshall.

Ravi K. Perry, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Political Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences, weighed in on the results and what they mean for future campaigns.


What stands out to you about the election results in Virginia?

National media predictions were largely inaccurate in predicting the outcome, with most outlets suggesting Northam wouldn’t even win. Also, it is clear that college students, women and African-Americans largely outperformed their expectations, likely due to dissatisfaction with [President Donald] Trump, but also to indicate their satisfaction with a low unemployment rate in Virginia and a high number of women Democratic candidates for House seats.

Are there specific races beyond the governor’s race that you see as important?

Clearly, Roem’s win is historic as the first transgender elected official in the state. However, Fairfax’s win as only the second black person to win statewide office is equally historic.  Meanwhile, in most House races where Republicans lost, they were defeated by women.

How much is this about national politics and how much is it about the state's makeup and a shift in its political identity?

I think the outcome of Tuesday’s election indicates how get-out-the-vote efforts by Democrats are increasingly effective in the Trump era. Seemingly, people are energized to ensure their states and local communities do not reflect the dysfunction many see in Washington. Moreover, Virginia’s demographics suggest that when Democrats turn out, it is extremely difficult for the GOP to project victories in northern, eastern [coast] and central Virginia.

Some pundits are using terms such as “harbinger” and “playbook” when reflecting on Virginia’s results. Do you think the results here will have an impact elsewhere in the country?

Potentially, though Americans have short attention spans. It’s hard to predict if this Democratic momentum will continue for an entire year. But, if Trump and the GOP insist on ignoring the outcome while continuing to push the same agenda from 2017, then it is reasonable to predict a repeat in 2018. However, given that Virginia is the only state in the South that Trump did not win, the optics of the Democratic sweep, while historic, are not as surprising as it would be in Georgia, for example.