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Why Republicans did well in the Virginia and New Jersey elections

Supporters of Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin celebrate during an election night rally on Tuesday in Chantilly, Va.
Supporters of Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin celebrate during an election night rally on Tuesday in Chantilly, Va.

Republicans rode a wave of conservative energy Tuesday night to a win in the election for Virginia governor and to land a better-than-expected finish in New Jersey, a race that is still too close to call, according to The Associated Press.

There were major shifts in both states in key counties and with key voting groups.

In Virginia, Republican Glenn Youngkin did better than President Donald Trump did in 2020 in every single county in the state.

In New Jersey, it was a similar story, with Republican Jack Ciattarelli improving on Trump's margins in 20 of 21 counties (so far) and flipping four from Democratic to Republican.

The result in the Virginia governor's race Tuesday night highlighted some major shifts in the electorate, according to exit polls. (There were no exit polls in New Jersey.)

The shifts were notable, especially considering that education and how children are taught in schools about racism dominated as a campaign issue.

Overall, the electorate in Virginia was older and whiter than in the 2020 presidential election — both were advantages for Youngkin.

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Voters between the ages of 18 and 29 were down significantly as a share of the electorate from 2020. Last year, they made up 1 in 5 voters. In this election, they were just 1 in 10.

The biggest shift was among independents, a group that President Biden won last year by 19 percentage points but that Youngkin won by 9.

There were also notable double-digit shifts among women (+17 points toward the Republican), white women (+15 R), white voters overall (+15 R), suburban voters (+14 R), white people without college degrees (+28 R) and parents with children under 18 living at home (+12 R).

Among those who said parents should have a lot of say in what schools teach, Youngkin won them 76% to 23%, and those voters made up 51% of the electorate.

Youngkin's expansion with whites without college degrees is remarkable, considering how well Trump did with them. And it underscores that, right now, they are a group that is simply out of reach for Democrats.

Black voters, who are traditionally a backbone of the Democratic Party, made up a slightly lower share of the electorate than they did in 2020. They were 18% of the electorate then and 16% of the electorate in 2021. They also voted at a similar margin for Democrat Terry McAuliffe as they did for Biden last year.

But while Youngkin was able to ride a fired-up base that went for him in rural areas in some cases by wider margins than for Trump, McAuliffe wasn't able to do the same with Black voters.

Latinos and Asian Americans were also down slightly as a share of the electorate, but they voted in wider margins for McAuliffe this year than last. Whites with college degrees were also up 5 points as a share of the electorate and voted by about the same margin for McAuliffe as for Biden.

But the other shifts toward Youngkin more than offset these increases among key Democratic groups.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.