Home 2017 Races Gerrymandering’s a Problem, Sure, But Voter RETENTION Is the Key

Gerrymandering’s a Problem, Sure, But Voter RETENTION Is the Key


A sure applause line for Virginia Democrats is to rail against gerrymandering, blame it for most/all of our problems in the Virginia House Delegates, and vow to do something about it. Yet for years, I’ve argued that a FAR bigger problem than gerrymandering is that Democratic voter “dropoff” from presidential years to “odd-year” Virginia elections is far, far greater than Republican voter “dropoff.” Now, VPAP has two graphics (see below) that visually demonstrate what I’ve been talking about. To me, the two key takeaways here are: 1) Democratic “voter retention” went from a pathetic 57.82% in 2013 to a MUCH more impressive 72.59% in 2017 — an increase of 15 percentage points, corresponding to a huge increase in the number of Democratic voters (~1.4 million in 2017 vs. ~1.1 million in 2013); 2) Republican “voter retention” actually increased a bit between 2013 and 2017, but only a bit, from 64.51% in 2013 to 68.63% in 2017; 3) the massive increase in Democratic voters in 2017 vs. 2013 completely overwhelmed the much smaller increase in GOP turnout, both at the statewide level and also in the House of Delegates districts.

The end results of these trends was a Democratic statewide sweep on November 7, plus an eye-popping pickup of 15 or 16 House of Delegates seats (all districts won by Hillary Clinton but held by Republicans prior to November 7, 2017). And why did this happen? I’d say a huge percentage of it (90%?) was due to anti-Trump backlash, which means that the challenge for Democrats going forward will be to figure out how to maintain 2017 levels of “voter retention” once the Orange Gropenfuhrer is nothing but a (very) bad memory…

P.S. Just to be 100% clear, I strongly support non-partisan redistricting and certainly believe that gerrymandering is a problem…just not the biggest part of the problem compared to Democratic voter retention struggles pre-Trump.

  • LaureenMT

    Another reason why so many Democrats voted in 2017? Because we had solid candidates for the House of Delegates who worked hard in their campaigns! And many dedicated volunteers who knocked on doors and made phone calls! If we can stay strong in those two areas, we can succeed in future elections.

    • We had solid Democratic candidates in other election cycles too, but we had more candidates and volunteers in 2017 because of anti-Trump backlash.

    • Kenneth Ferland

      I recall their was a comparison between districts that previously did not have HoD candidates and ones that did across the last cycle, which showed that a HoD challenger raised turnout and added on average 20% to Northams vote in those districts. They call it reverse coat-tails and it should be a strategy going forward for all Democrats everywhere.

  • suspicious_package

    So then, I’m guessing Democrats support moving VA elections to even years – like just about everybody else?

    • Kenneth Ferland

      No I think Virginia dose it correctly, local and statewide elections in odd years let the state be the focus and habituates voters to vote EVERY November.

      • suspicious_package

        That, higher voter turnout, would be a great reason to support off-off-year elections. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Voter turnout in these elections are always much lower than in the year that proceeds. Since 1976, the Presidential years average 75% and then next year it drops to 52%. Midterms average 50% and the following years 42%. So if it isn’t leading to more voter turnout, then what is the value of habituating people?

        • Kenneth Ferland

          Virginia has higher then average presidential turnout and practices like same-day-registration or vote by mail are the best methods for raising it.

          • suspicious_package

            Both of those things may be true. Neither of them contradicts the point that by moving the VA elections to even years, total voter turnout would go up. Are you arguing that consolidation them would make Presidential year voting go down? That having more reason to go and vote would cause fewer people to vote.

            Let’s go the other way. If this is such a great idea. Why not elect the Governor in Nov 2017 and then the HoD the next month, and Lt. Gov the next. And Attorney General the next. And then county elections the next month etc… Let’s make Virginians used to voting on the 2nd Tuesday of every month. That will really habituate voters right?

    • I would support that, but realistically, I think the chances of the Gen. Assembly changing it are close to zero.

  • Ken Wheeler

    This is a multi-year project. The volunteer base, has to stay engaged, keep organizing, and developing multi-person teams that will continue to engage the voting base, every year. Primaries help, as it raises general awareness. Voter ID canvassing in the spring, along with post card efforts, and phonebanking, also help to increase voter engagement. The key, is to have enough volunteers engaged so that we avoid burnout. But slowly, overtime, we are going to raise the engagement of democratic voters, and educate them that voting is the minimum effort they have to make.