What Happened in the VA-10 Congressional Election? (2018)

Please note: The analysis below is based on an initial estimate of the 2018 electorate. Catalist released an updated analysis of the 2018 electorate in May 2019.


February 15, 2019

Author: Bennett Hillenbrand, Catalist Analytics

  1. The partisan composition of the 2018 electorate in this district did not look like previous midterm electorates. Historically, the Republican share of the electorate in 2014 and 2010 was at or above 40%, but fell to 29% in 2018. Interestingly, Historical Democratic share is unchanged between 2010, 2014, and 2018. This loss in Historical Republican share was offset entirely by a corresponding increase in Historical Middle share.
  2. The 2018 electorate matched the most diverse electorate ever in this district. Voters of color made up 27% of the total vote, the same as in 2016, but a full 7 percentage points higher than 2014.
  3. Wexton received unprecedented levels of support among white Gen X and Gen Y voters. Wexton’s margin of support among white 30–44 year olds was +17 percentage points. The previous high water mark for this demographic group was +1 for Clinton in 2016. Even Obama did not carry this group (he received 48% of their vote in 2008).
  4. Wexton’s margin among college-educated voters was +20 percentage points, a full 5 points ahead of Clinton. College educated voters make up over 50% of this district, making it the 12th best educated district in the country. So in an environment where educated voters seem to be defecting from voting Republican, an improvement of this magnitude in a district with this educated a population produces large shifts in topline margins.

In places where Clinton did well, Wexton did somewhat better, whereas in places Clinton split 50/50 with Trump, Wexton actually did somewhat worse. This is the exact opposite of what we see in the Obama margin comparison — in places Obama split 50/50 with Romney, Wexton improved by 12 percentage points. This aligns nicely with her performance increase we saw among Historical Middle partisans and what we show below with respect to performance in the urban and suburban regions of the district when compared to Obama:


Something not yet mentioned in this analysis: VA-10 is the wealthiest district in the country as measured by median income. As we did not include an income breakout in our model-based estimates (see the original post from this series for a full description of the methodology), we can’t say too much about this yet, but it will be interesting to see if wealthier voters in VA-10 behave similarly or as an outlier compared to other wealthy voters. In the interim, we do have data for education levels, which can serve as a meaningful proxy in this district. As mentioned, the district is over 50% college educated, and among that group we do see an improvement, even over Clinton, especially among white college-educated voters (this improvement among educated voters obviously has a strong overlap with the geographic density improvement):


Finally, Wexton outperformed all previous candidates with respect to white Gen X and Gen Y voters in this district by a margin of over 16 points:


Even if this does represent something of a high water mark, if that cohort of age 30–44 white voters solidifies around Democratic candidates going forward, this district could move from the toss-up column into the Democratic column for years to come.