A good rule of thumb when trying to predict which party will do better in an election is by determining which base is the angriest. These are the people who show up to vote, and in a midterm election when the number of voters is much lower than during presidential election years, tapping into that anger is crucial for politicians running for election.
How Virginia looks
There are 11 congressional districts in Virginia. Four are currently held by Democrats while seven are held by Republicans. Even though Virginia is a fairly blue state as a whole, looking at the partisan breakdown of its representatives still reflects the national political climate well. If the number of Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives remains the same, that will likely disprove the existence of a “blue wave.”
Of the 11 congressional districts, there are four to keep track of on Election Day. All are currently held by Republicans but could be flipped. VA-02 leans Republican and is the safest bet for the GOP, while VA-05 and VA-07 could go either way and VA-10 leans Democratic. If Democratic enthusiasm translates into votes, Virginia stands a good chance of having only three Republican representatives.
As for the Senate race, Tim Kaine looks to win a decisive victory against Corey Stewart. Kaine has run a fairly typical campaign, facing less pressure than some of his colleagues in less-blue states without much concern for either far-right candidate Stewart or Libertarian candidate Matt Waters. It also helps that Stewart’s divisive rhetoric is actively pushing voters away.
The Trump base
President Trump’s core base of voters has not shown signs of wavering. Despite being disproportionately negatively affected by his major policies, they seem content to stick with Trump, maybe not to the end, but certainly through the midterms and into the new year.
That being said, there isn’t much evidence to support the idea that a Trump endorsement does much for a conservative candidate. Last year, he endorsed Ed Gillespie — who was running for governor — while Gillespie ran a very Trump-inspired campaign. In the end, Gillespie suffered a decisive defeat at the hands of Democrat Ralph Northam. The GOP may be the party of Trump, but Trump voters are not loyal Republicans.
After the Republicans tried and failed to do away with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — commonly known as Obamacare — Democrats have made health care their defining issue. The past eight years have been hard on Democrats since the passage of the ACA, which was widely criticized by constituents of both parties. Now, after a number of unpopular repeal attempts by Republicans, Democrats feel as though they can now reclaim health care as a central platform.
A significant number of Republicans have backtracked and are now claiming to support varying amounts of government-subsidized health care with protections for people with pre-existing conditions. In most cases, this is a blatant lie. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) made his career on his absolute opposition to ACA but is now claiming that he has always supported protecting people with pre-existing conditions.
The Republicans have made key issues like immigration and terrorism the focal point for the midterms. The prominence of the migrant caravan in Honduras in the news and anxiety over the changing racial demographics are two issues that Republicans have been tapping into in order to connect with their base. Some Republicans are hoping that race-baiting tactics will prove to be a more convincing message than the Democrats’ support for the expansion of health care.
On the flip side, the rise in hate crimes and bigoted right-wing candidates provides a strong motivation for minorities to vote Democratic. Tragedies like the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh and the shooting near a black church could push more conservative minority voters to vote Democratic out of fear.
There is no denying the impact that the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has had to rally liberal voters and women. Both parties were highly polarized by the ordeal, but after he was confirmed, Republican enthusiasm died down somewhat. Democrats, however, have not left behind their anger from Merrick Garland being denied a hearing and were further incensed by how the accusations made against Kavanaugh were treated. Anger over the Kavanaugh hearings may not be the most pressing issue on voters’ minds, but it will certainly help to motivate many of them to go to the polls.
Young voters are notorious for their low voter participation. Millennials should make up the largest voting group this year, but it seems unlikely that they will buck this trend. Democrats suffer from that, as younger voters tend to be more liberal. The best way to win would be to get younger voters to the polls.
There has been a small surge of enthusiasm among young millennials and older members of Gen Z, due to an overall rise in enthusiasm and the prominence of political issues referenced in pop culture. Even so, it does not seem likely that millennials are motivated enough to become the largest voting demographic this election.
Challenges to voting
Low voter turnout is not entirely indicative of a lazy populace. Voting can be difficult for some to manage. Election Day is on a Tuesday, during which a significant number of voters have to work. People with mobility issues can send in absentee ballots, but they must register to do so weeks before the election actually takes place.
Voter suppression is an increasingly common occurrence, primarily in Republican-controlled states. Virginia is in a bit of a different position, with no obvious attempts at further restricting who can vote and how. This is helped by former Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s action that gave hundreds of thousands of citizens convicted of felonies the right to vote. However, that is not to say that it isn’t a problem. The Brennan Center for Justice found that Virginia was one of four states since 2013 to have conducted illegal voter purges.
That being said, the very nature of Election Day presents some serious challenges. Making time to vote with a full-time job or getting to the polls without a means of transportation can lead to some voters simply choosing not to vote, particularly in a non-presidential election year. This year might be different, as increased enthusiasm also means more people putting in effort to find some way to get to the polls. Lyft has even offered discounted and free rides.
It seems tired to mention this, but fake news will certainly play a role in how people feel leading up to the elections. Intelligence agencies have reported that Russia is trying to influence this election, which means that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter will be flooded with bots and trolls attempting to widen the partisan divide. While Twitter has taken some steps to clamp down on the number of bots, neither site has done enough to combat fake news in a meaningful way.
Making this even more difficult is the number of politicians and candidates who openly spread fake news. This is of particular concern as it relates to immigration and health care, both of which seem to be the core issues of the election. Fears stoked or assuaged by lies about either topic could have an impact on the election and whether people feel the need to vote for one party over the other.