by Sam Shirazi
Now that the primaries are over, the parties have their nominees and the focus shifts to this fall’s General Election. Only a handful of seats will decide control of the State Senate and House of Delegates.
There is an old adage “it all comes down to turnout,” but 2022 showed Democrats can win with persuasion even with lower turnout. In reality, both (turning out the base and persuading swing voters) are needed, but depending on the district, either persuasion or turnout will be more important.
It is an open question what turnout will look like this year in Virginia because this is an “off-off” year election with no statewide or federal races. Historically, turnout has been very low in these elections, with just 30% turnout in 2007, 29% in 2011, and 29% in 2015 – before bumping up to 42% in 2019. The higher 2019 number is almost certainly due to Trump being in the White House, with Democrats energized to fight him. This year, we will see if there is a similar turnout number to 2019, or whether it will fall back closer to the pre-Trump numbers.
Given the historically low turnout in this year of the four-year cycle, it is important for Virginia Democrats to work on turning out their voters this fall – but also to make efforts at persuading voters in case voter turnout is lower. For instance, while 2022 didn’t seem like relatively high turnout for a midterm, Democrats still performed well, in part because of persuasion.
With that background, here are the most competitive State Senate and House of Delegates seats this fall, categorized based on the importance of persuasion and turnout.
These are typically suburban seats with relatively affluent, college-educated voters who tend to vote in most elections. As a result, the goal with these voters is less about getting them out to the polls, but persuading them to vote for Democrats when they *do* vote.
These voters have rapidly moved towards Democrats since the election of Trump in 2016. However, Glenn Youngkin was able to make inroads, winning enough of them back to help him narrowly win the 2021 election. So one big question this fall will be whether Democrats win back some of those “Biden-Youngkin” voters, particularly given the overturning of Roe v Wade and the strongly pro-choice tendencies of these voters.
These seats are in the suburbs of Northern Virginia or Richmond:
- SD 16 Western Henrico
- SD-31 Loudoun/Fauquier
- HD-21 Western Prince William County
- HD-22 Central Prince William County
- HD-57 Western Henrico
- HD-58 Western Henrico
These are typically seats either with more working-class, non-White voters or younger voters. These voters tend to pick Democrats, but don’t always come out to vote in non-presidential years, especially in Virginia state elections.
The key for these voters will be specific outreach geared towards their communities – and not assuming they will automatically vote. This was one of the issues in 2021 for Democrats, as these voters came out a relatively lower rate as compared to other voters. This is particularly important in an “off-off” year election such as this one, when many voters, especially younger voters, might not even know there is an election or how high the stakes are.
As you can see, these seats are a mix of areas across Virginia, although younger voters tend to be concentrated in college towns.
- SD-17 Southside/Hampton Roads
- HD-41 Blacksburg/Montgomery County
- HD-82 Petersburg
- HD-84 Suffolk/Franklin
- HD-89 Suffolk/Chesapeake
Finally, there are seats where different parts of the district have different dynamics, with some parts of the district being more about persuasion and other parts being more about turnout.
As you can see, these tend to be areas where there are either college towns or working class areas combined with more affluent suburban areas.
- SD-24 Newport News/Williamsburg
- SD-27 Fredericksburg/Stafford
- SD-30 Manassas/Western Prince William County
- HD-65 Fredericksburg/Stafford
- HD-71 Williamsburg/James City
- HD-86 Hampton/York
- HD-97 Virginia Beach
The bottom line is that we’re going to need both turnout and persuasion this fall. Whichever one of these you’re more interested, make sure you get involved in some of these key districts which will decide this year’s elections – and Virginia future for many years to come.