Worrying signs for Democrats in Virginia’s exit poll

November 6, 2013

Today's narrative is all good for the Democrats: The tea party lost in Virginia. The Republican who hugged President Obama won a landslide in New Jersey. And a liberal won in New York City.

But the exit polls out of Virginia give Republicans some reason to cheer heading into the 2014 midterms. Though Virginia's GOP chose a candidate who turned off moderate Republicans and motivated Democrats, and though the Democrats had vastly more money, the exit polls still showed the kind of demographic drift that could help Republicans make gains next year.

dems va exit poll

- In 2012, voters aged 18-29 -- the most Democratic-leaning age group -- made up 19 percent of Virginia's electorate. In 2013, they made up 13 percent.

- In 2012, voters over age 65 made up 14 percent of Virginia's electorate. In 2013, they made up 18 percent.

- In 2012, 30 percent of Virginia's voters were non-white. In 2013, 28 percent were non-white.

- Self-identified Democrats were 39 percent of Virginia's electorate in 2012 and 37 percent in 2013.

- For all the "war on women" rhetoric, female voters fell from 53 percent in 2012 to 51 percent in 2013.

Now, as Sean Trende notes, the numbers on race are a significant improvement for Democrats over 2009, when the demographics were much more favorable to the Republicans. (The numbers on age are more mixed, with 65+ matching its 2009 share of the electorate in 2013.) But then, Republicans had a better candidate, and less of a financial disadvantage, in 2009.

Still, the difference from 2012 -- particularly the tea party Democrats they had in Cuccinelli and the huge money advantage they got with Terry McAuliffe -- speaks to the tougher demographics the Democratic Party continues to face in midterm elections. And post-shutdown Virginia is far from the toughest field they'll be playing on in 2014.

One cautionary note here is that exit polls, of course, are imprecise, and 2013's exit poll has a margin of error of four percentage points -- so some of these differences might just be noise. But some, like the age gap, aren't, and all the movement is in the same direction -- towards the Republicans. Remember, too, that the cold logic of statistical uncertainty means the Republican tilt could easily be sharper than these results indicate.

A Republican looking at these numbers should feel disappointed by last night's election but hopeful about next year's. That's not to say there's anything here that suggests a 2010-like sweep. But these sorts of numbers in race this tilted for the Democrats makes it clear that Democrats will be on more challenging ground in 2014 than they were in 2012.

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Evan Soltas · November 6, 2013