Virginia residents are reaching the final stages of a fierce political campaign to elect their governor. Although the state has voted for a Democrat candidate in every statewide election since 2009, this year the contest between Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe is looking incredibly close, despite Biden winning the state by more than 10 points just a year ago. If polls are to be believed, Virginia’s Latino voters might be crucial for Youngkin’s prospects of winning the election.
Fivethrityeight’s poll aggregator shows that McAuliffe, who was also governor of the state between 2014 and 2018, has a very slim advantage over Youngkin. With the poll average showing the Democrats with 47.6% of the vote, a 2.5% edge over Youngkin’s 45.1%, the difference is well within the margin of error of most polls.
The latest poll by Emerson college has both candidates in a virtual tie, with the Democrat polling 49% of voters’ intentions to Youngkin’s 48%. The tight race in Virginia has alarmed Democrats, especially as this would be the first significant electoral test their party will face since Joe Biden assumed the presidency on January 20th, a challenge that comes at a time when Biden is facing a freefall in the polls.
According to Politico Democrats have been drastically increasing their efforts in the Commonwealth. Democratic figures like Stacey Abrams, Biden, or electoral strategist James Carville have ramped out their efforts to help McAuliffe win. Democrat’s fears could be best summarized by an email sent by McAuliffe to his supporters titled “Are we blowing this?”.
Some polls have shown that Virginia Democrats might be underperforming is in one key constituency where Republicans showed some significant improvements during the 2020 presidential election: Latino voters.
Open to Youngkin’s candidacy
Hispanics are not the largest voting bloc in Virginia, according to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, only 5.5% of eligible voters are Latinos. However, in an election where both candidates are less than 3% from each other, even the smallest of changes in voter attitudes can prove to have a significant effect.
For example, it has been argued that one of the reasons why Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis won his 2018 election was due to a small but larger than expected swing of African American women towards his candidacy, according to a CNN exit poll. This shift was less than 2% of the total electorate, however, every vote mattered in an election that was decided by less than 0.5% of the vote.
Both campaigns have ramped up their efforts to reach the Hispanic vote in Virginia, with McAuliffe publishing a letter of 50 local Hispanics supporting him and Youngkin launching a coalition called “Latinos for Youngkin” and publishing a letter of support signed by 100 members of the Hispanic community in Virginia.
Republicans have some reasons to be optimistic about their chances in November. According to the latest poll made by Emerson college, conducted to 620 likely voters between October 1-3, the Republican candidate holds an advantage over the Democrat within the Virginia Hispanic community, with 55% of the Latinos surveyed preferring Youngkin over McAuliffe. These numbers also match a similar decrease of Biden’s popularity among Latinos that has been reported by other polls at a national level.
Other polls have painted a less worrying picture for the Democratic candidate, with a Monmouth survey conducted on September 27th showing that 53% of Hispanics support McAuliffe over 28% of Latinos who support Youngkin, while 14% of those surveyed remained undecided.
However, even the more positive polls for McAuliffe represent a decrease from Biden’s numbers in 2020 or from Gov. Northam’s in 2018. A CNN exit poll showed that 61% of Latino voters cast their ballots for Biden in the 2020 presidential election, while a Washington Post survey showed that 67% of Latinos voted for the current Democratic governor.
If the Monmouth poll proves right, then McAuliffe’s campaign needs to make sure that the remaining 14% of undecided Hispanics do not flock to Youngkin’s camp and if Emerson’s numbers are correct then Republicans need to make sure that this support actually turns into votes.
In either case, as Virginia’s election nears and with polls showing a race that is basically tied, both campaigns will fight for every single vote, and the Latino electorate will most likely be one of the most prized constituencies in this year’s election.