Low Voter Turnout In Virginia Special Election Could Signal A Worry For Democrats

By Michael Barone, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I'm not sure what to make of this, but in the special election Tuesday for the Virginia House of Delegates 46th District seat vacated by Democrat Brian Moran (who is running for governor), the Democratic candidate won by only 16 votes, out of only 2,679 cast. The district is the western end of the independent city of Alexandria, a solidly Democratic constituency. By way of comparison, the district went 93 percent Democratic in 2007 and 72 percent Democratic in 2005, the last time there was a Republican candidate. Interestingly, the district's population in 2000 was 24 percent black and 13 percent Hispanic.

The results in two other Virginia delegate special elections, held on January 6, were very much in line with the districts' proclivities. The 70th District on the east side of Richmond and Henrico County, whose population was 61 percent black in 2000, voted 74 percent for the Democrat; the 81st District in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake voted 83 percent Republican. Both had low turnouts: 912 voters in the 70th District, 2,988 in the 81st. The 70th District was not contested by Republicans in 2007, 2005, 2003, or 2001. The last time the Democrats contested the 81st District was in 2003, when the Republican got 70 percent of the vote.

The result in the 46th District, and the turnout in all three districts, is fragmentary evidence that Democrats are having trouble duplicating the enthusiastic turnout they achieved for Barack Obama last November 4. You can add it to the fragmentary evidence in the results of the Georgia Senate runoff December 2 and the two Louisiana U.S. House runoffs December 6.

Here's a table showing the total voting for delegates in 2005, 2007, and 2009; turnout was much higher in 2005, when the governorship was up, than in the off year of 2007 or the special elections this month.

What I think the numbers show is that a significantly larger percentage of Republicans than Democrats bothered to vote in these special elections. Black turnout seems to have been especially low. This runs at least a little contrary to expectations, since Republicans today have plenty of reasons to be dispirited and Democrats after Barack Obama's victory have plenty of reasons to be enthusiastic.

All of this may turn out to have no bearing on turnout in the 2009 elections in Virginia and New Jersey and the 2010 congressional elections. But if I were still a Democratic political consultant, I'd be just a bit concerned.

--Read more by Michael Barone.

--Read more from the Thomas Jefferson Street blog.

--Read more about elections.

--Read more about voting.


By Michael Barone
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