Republican Glenn Youngkin built his margin of victory in last week’s Virginia gubernatorial race by shifting voter preferences in every corner of the state, not just by improving his performance with rural voters.
A lot of the analysis of the pivotal governor’s race has focused on Youngkin’s 40-point margin in the state’s nonmetropolitan counties. That’s understandable. It was a withering defeat for Democrat Terry McAuliffe among rural voters, to be sure. The Democratic organization and candidate mustered a pitiful showing in rural areas.
But Youngkin’s victory represented a statewide shift in support for the Republican candidate compared to the 2020 presidential election in Virginia. One remarkable takeaway from the 2021 race is just how uniform and widespread the Republican improvement was – from small rural counties to the largest cities in the state.
The graph at the top of this story compares the Republican share of the vote in the 2021 gubernatorial race to the 2020 presidential election in Virginia. Youngkin increased the Republican share of the rural (nonmetropolitan) vote by 5.4 percentage points from 2020 to 2021. In the state’s largest metropolitan areas, he improved the Republican showing by about 7 points. In medium and small metropolitan areas, he did about 6 or 7 points better than Trump did in 2020. (County category definitions are below.)
There was a similar trend when we compared the 2021 governor’s race to the 2017 gubernatorial election, in which Democrat Ralph Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillispie. Youngkin’s improvement over Gillispie ranges from 5 to 6 points in major metropolitan areas to 6 points in rural counties. Again, the pattern is statewide and consistent.
Rural turnout was roughly proportional to the rest of the state when comparing the 2020 presidential election and the 2017 governor’s race, as well.
- Large Metropolitan Core: The central counties of metropolitan areas with a combined population over 1 million residents.
- Large Metropolitan Suburb: The outlying counties of large metropolitan areas.
- Medium Metropolitan Core: The central counties of metropolitan areas with a combined population of more than 250,000 to 1 million residents.
- Medium Metropolitan Suburb: The outlying counties of medium-sized metropolitan areas.
- Small Metropolitan: Counties in metropolitan areas under 250,000 resdients.
- Nonmetropolitan: Counties that are not part of metropolitan areas. This article uses nonmetropolitan and rural synonymously.
Metropolitan counties are defined using the 2013 list created by the federal Office of Management and Budget. More information is available from the USDA Economic Research Service.