Virginia’s election for governor captured the nation’s attention last month as voters chose Republican Glenn Youngkin over Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate who had previously served as governor from 2014 through 2018.
A pollster is now offering a unique look into how Youngkin attracted swing voters.
“This was talking to people in their own words,” said Brian Stryker, a Democratic pollster with ALG Research who hosted focus groups in Northern Virginia comprising voters who supported President Biden and either voted for Youngkin or strongly considered supporting him.
“They liked Youngkin and they liked what he was saying,” Stryker explained. “They were willing to vote for a Republican.”
According to Stryker, the most important finding from his research was that Youngkin was able to attract swing voters with the message that he stood with families who were uncertain and frustrated due to COVID-19 restrictions and regulations in classrooms.
“They are looking for how to get their kids back, because they feel like their kids have gotten knocked off track,” Stryker said, adding that the families thought school leaders were ignoring the hardships they endured during the pandemic.
“There was a lot of frustration with the sense that people didn’t really care,” Stryker said. “They had their kids sent home and were forced to scramble for child care.”
Perhaps one surprising finding was related to McAuliffe and how voters viewed him.
“They didn’t know a ton about him,” said Stryker, explaining that voters had a difficult time saying what McAuliffe had accomplished and what he planned to do if elected.
“Voters have short memories,” said Stryker. “They knew that he had been governor, but they couldn’t name things that he had done.”
McAuliffe and other Democrats tried to argue that Youngkin was similar or even identical to former President Donald Trump, who is deeply unpopular among Biden voters in Virginia. Biden carried the state by 10 percentage points in the 2020 presidential election.
That argument did not gain traction, according to Stryker.
“They don’t think that just because someone is in the Republican Party that they are similar to Donald Trump or that they are controlled by Donald Trump,” Stryker said.