Democratic Wins Don’t Rule Out Republican Chances in 2024

November 8, 2023

While Tuesday’s election belongs to Democrats, the results are not necessarily a good predictor for the upcoming 2024 presidential election, according to UVA Center for Politics’ Kyle Kondik. (Illustration by Emily Faith Morgan, University Communications)

Democratic candidates won key races in Virginia and across the country in Tuesday’s state and local elections, just days after national polls showed President Joe Biden polling poorly among young and nonwhite voters.

But experts with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics warn that Tuesday’s wins do not necessarily predict the outcome of the 2024 presidential election.

The Center for Politics’ pundits watched six key races across the country on Tuesday, including the Kentucky and Mississippi gubernatorial races; an abortion rights ballot issue in Ohio; a Pennsylvania Supreme Court race; and results from both chambers of the Virginia legislature.

Democrats ended up winning five of the six, only losing the Mississippi gubernatorial race.

“Last night’s results have given Democrats a shot in the arm and have confounded the recent narrative about Democrats being in deep trouble next year,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of the Center for Politics’ “Sabato’s Crystal Ball.” 

Kondik, who spent election night working with CBS News’ data desk on results, said the strength shown by the Democrats and ballot issues supporting traditionally Democratic policies, such as abortion rights, may not carry over to the next presidential election.

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He noted that the lack of a presidential candidate at the top of a ballot appeals to a smaller and different group of voters.

“It may be the case that President Biden is in fact uniquely vulnerable, and that even former President Trump - himself dragged down by plenty of vulnerabilities that likely are not getting the kind of attention now that they will if he is renominated - could beat Biden,” Kondik said. “It may also be the case that polling a year out from an election is not predictive, and it often is not.” 

Kondik said abortion rights issues likely fueled some voters – not just in Ohio, where a constitutional protection of the right to abortion was approved by voters, but in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

In Virginia, abortion rights were a factor in numerous campaigns. In Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear ran against Republican challenger Daniel Cameron and used Cameron’s opposition to abortion in the campaign. In Pennsylvania, Democrat Daniel McCaffery won a state Supreme Court campaign which also featured abortion debates.

“Abortion is not a one-size-fits-all, automatic decisive winner for Democrats in every race,” Kondik said, “but it’s clear that the Democrats are just closer to where average Americans are on the issue than Republicans, and they have used the issue to great effect in many parts of the country.”

In the aftermath of Virginia’s legislative races, Democrats now have slim majorities in both the state Senate, with 21 of 40 seats, and the House of Delegates, with 51 of 100 seats. The race in House District 82 has yet to be called. 

Considering how the state often votes in presidential elections, the Democrats’ showing is not that surprising, Kondik said.

“Virginia is a state where the off-year electorate is more Republican than what one would expect in a presidential year, to the point where even a GOP victory in both chambers would not have really changed our belief that Virginia is clearly a Democratic-leaning state in presidential elections,” Kondik said. “The Democratic wins in the state House and Senate obviously are more in line with where the state is federally.”

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Bryan McKenzie

Assistant Editor, UVA Today Office of University Communications