What Happened in the Virginia Senate 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.


December 20, 2018

Author: Bennett Hillenbrand, Catalist Analytics

  1. Demographics have been moving the state from purple to blue
  2. Improvements in support among suburban voters have accelerated this movement — statewide and at the congressional level
  3. And the potential to establish progressive inroads with historically challenging groups such as rural voters and whites without a college degree.

As shown in the chart above, we also see that Kaine picked up 14 points of support among white voters compared to Clinton’s level of support in 2016 (important given that whites accounted for nearly three-quarters of all votes cast in 2018). Digging deeper into that change among whites by age group, there is roughly a 20 point swing in support among the 18–29 age group and 30–44 age group:


This increase in support among younger white voters is plainly visible at the precinct level as well. The graph below shows the relationship between the percent of the white population under 45 and Democratic vote share. This graph only includes precincts where the population is at least 75% white, to help show this relationship more strongly. In short, precincts where a larger share of the population is white and young demonstrated the greatest degree of improvement for Kaine over Clinton.


Importantly, these shifts in support from white voters are not Republicans defecting from their party. Instead, this was movement among middle partisans — a group that grew in size compared to past cycles and supported Kaine at a rate 20 points higher than Clinton. Given their 38 percent vote share in Virginia, this equates to a net topline change of +8 points.


Lastly, beyond the general shifts by population density mentioned earlier, it is notable that Kaine outperformed Clinton among non-college voters in urban, suburban, and rural communities alike. Though the gain was (expectedly) highest among urban voters, rural white non-college voters shifted towards Kaine by a 12 point margin, which is significant given the challenge this group has presented historically, as well as the fact that they account for 17 percent of the electorate.