A post-election report from ALG Research and Third Way found that Democrats’ losses in Virginia in November were due to both national and Virginia-specific challenges. Key findings from a swing-voter-focused study group included lackluster national brand for Democrats, the importance of education, and the failure of the Youngkin-equals-Trump messaging, combined with Youngkin’s positive persona and proactive issues.
“We’re not saying this was a mistake, or that Terry had a better message he left on the table. We don’t know. But we do know that if our most–effective message in 2022 is that Republicans equal Trump, we’re going to get creamed,” the report states.
“[Focus-group members] liked [Youngkin], related to him, and thought he was going to do something good for them,” the report states.
Before the election, pundits said Republicans would have some help from Virginia’s tendency to vote against the party of a new president. That’s a pattern that also plays out in congressional midterms. The ALG report doesn’t merely blame Virginia Democrats’ performance on those predictable trends. The report is based on focus groups of 18 Biden 2020 voters who were swing voters or who considered both Youngkin and McAuliffe in 2021. The online focus groups were conducted November 8 and 9 with voters from the Richmond metro area and Northern Virginia; the report warns against projecting its conclusions on Virginia’s entire electorate.
“We’re realistic about our ability to message our way out of this problem. People aren’t feeling good, and they’re always going to blame the party in power for that. But if people don’t think we’re tackling economic issues, are putting government and closures before parents on schools, and only want to make the election about Trump, we’re only amplifying the natural dynamics of a midterm election,” the report states.
According to the report, other national issues contributing to McAuliffe’s loss include voter unhappiness with the direction of the country, a perceived bad economy, and policy focused on social issues, not economy. Virginia-specific issues for McAuliffe include Youngkin’s positive persona and Youngkin’s promise to eliminate the grocery tax.
McAuliffe didn’t get a boost from his experience as governor and was perceived as the status quo, according to the report.
Education was another big problem for McAuliffe, and his debate gaffe about parents and schools didn’t help.
“Education dominated—not so much CRT (which was a problem) but more broadly parental control plus shutdowns. These swing voters didn’t agree with what they thought the liberal position on race in schools was. However, it wasn’t as salient as the fact that they felt Democrats closed their schools and didn’t feel bad about it. They also knew about his debate quote on parents; it clearly burned in and resonated with them,” the report states.
The report includes some takeaways about the Biden 2020 voters in the focus group.
“They thought Democrats are only focused on equality and fairness and not on helping people,” the report states. “None of these Biden voters associated our party with helping working people, the middle class, or people like them. They thought we were more focused on breaking down social barriers facing marginalized groups. They were all for helping marginalized groups, but the fact that they couldn’t point
to anything we are doing to help them was deeply concerning.”
“Don’t underestimate the power of a positive message that speaks to people’s everyday lives,” the report concludes. “This may be an obvious point, but Glenn Youngkin tapped into a major issue (rising prices of meat plus other groceries) and proposed a solution (ending the grocery tax) that showed he got the problem.”
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