Looking ahead: State elections ‘not always great predictors’ of what’s to come

Despite efforts by Gov. Glenn Youngkin to take control of Virginia’s General Assembly, Virginia voters flipped the House of Delegates to Democratic control and preserved that majority in the state Senate; but is this an indication of what’s to come nationally in 2024?

David Bateman, professor of government and policy at Cornell University and expert on democratic institutions, says we should be wary of looking to Virginia as an indicator of what’s to come in next year’s election.

Bateman says: “We should always be a little hesitant to read too much into the tea leaves. State indicators a year out are not always great predictors, but as politics has become much more nationalized the difference between states and national results has diminished.

“Overall, the message people are taking away is that Democrats are benefiting from anger over Dobbs and competence in government (Beshear). That sounds right to me, but the results were so positive across so many races that I expect it's more than that. Still, a few notes of caution for Democrats might be warranted.

“It looks like Trump and his effect on the party have hurt the GOP among key constituencies. But when Trump is on the ballot, he has also been able to mobilize other constituencies to compensate for that. This might lead to a situation where the GOP generally underperforms when he's not on the ballot and overperforms when he is. That's just speculation given the limited data, but it captures the basic trends since 2016. And it looks like 2024 will have Trump on the ballot.

“The polls across most states were pretty accurate. That could mean Biden is in trouble since the polls for him right now are generally bad. It could also mean that polls taken once the campaign is actually underway and voters are paying attention are more predictive of how people will actually vote than polls taken a year in advance when the actual necessity of making a choice isn't pressing. The big question for Democrats is whether these results can shift their own communications and the media narrative, and if that happens whether that begins to affect Biden's poll numbers in positive ways. If not, and if the polls stay bad, then it's not clear that they should be putting too much weight on last night's elections.”

For interviews contact Damien Sharp: cell, 540.222.8208, drs395@cornell.edu.

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