Biden’s diminishing approvals risk Virginia Democratic control

As Joe Biden’s approval rating continues to plummet and an increasing number of polls in Virginia show a tightening in multiple statewide races, Republicans in Virginia are beginning to like their chances in the upcoming election much more than they did in 2017.

For the first time since his inauguration, a majority of Americans disapprove of Joe Biden’s job performance according to 538’s approval average. Gold-standard pollster Selzer & Co, which had good fortune in measuring the 2020 election, found Biden down double digits. Quinnipiac University, the pollster which got the closest to the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial election result, echoed Selzer’s results.

Despite Biden’s dwindling approval rating, Virginia Democrats still maintain a marginal lead in the polls; but their lead narrowed in the past week by a point in the 538 polling average, with McAuliffe leading by a nail-biting 2 points. Only Republican-leaning pollsters have found Youngkin with a lead. Monmouth University, Cygnal and Suffolk University have shown a tied race.

Taking these two crucial factors into consideration, we are moving two of the Virginia statewide elections from Lean Democratic to Tilt Democratic: the race for Governor and Lieutenant Governor. These races are more hotly contested than the race for Attorney General, where Democratic incumbent Mark Herring is running for a third term against Virginia Beach Republican Jason Miyares, Delegate from the 82nd district.

In the races for the House of Delegates, we are moving two races in the Republicans’ direction. One of these, District 75, is to help narrow our “Toss-Up” rating in the final week before the election as we make a final decision for each of the races. Outside of this, we are moving District 27 in Chesterfield from Tilt Republican to Lean Republican.

While Democrats’ top recruit of the 2021 cycle, Debra Gardner, has consistently outraised and overall out-campaigned Republican incumbent Roxann Robinson, it is difficult to see how this Trump 2016 district can flip to the Democrats. Given their nail-biter losses here in 2017 and 2019, both of which were blue wave election years, fervent animosity toward then-incumbent President Donald Trump is no longer a factor which Virginia Democrats can rely upon.

Several top Virginia Democrats with whom we’ve spoken believe that the 27th is their best pickup opportunity. Due to the partisanship of the district, we’ll have to disagree. District 66, adjacent to the 27th and several points bluer with no Republican incumbent, is the most favorable pickup opportunity for Virginia Democrats – so the 27th is in the Lean Republican column (30% chance of a Democratic upset) and the 66th in the Tilt Republican column (40% chance of a Democratic upset). The rating for the 66th may be subject to change in our final ratings on Monday, the day before the election.

District 75, the second-tightest Democratic win in 2019 (2.09%) in Southside Virginia, is moving from the Toss-Up column back to Tilt Republican, a rating we had for this seat early on in the year. This rightward-trending, rural seat is in a region where Republican gubernatorial candidates in Virginia have fared better than the previous year’s Republican presidential nominee since 2009. Republican Otto Waschmann, who ran a bare bones campaign in 2019 and yet came impressively close to winning, is running once again against longtime Democratic incumbent Roz Tyler in what will be her most competitive race since she first ran for the House back in 2005.

After these two rating changes, the odds in the Virginia House of Delegates have moved in the direction of the Republicans: the odds of a Democratic majority have decreased by 1.25%, while the odds of a Republican majority have increased by 1.24%. The odds of a tie have gone from 5.30 to 5.34%. In the supermajority odds, a Democratic supermajority is no longer possible, sitting at 0.00%, whereas it was 0.02% before. For Republicans, it’s slightly decreased, going from 0.04% to 0.03%. You can find our full House of Delegates forecast here.

Thank you to Eric Burk for the picture of Terry McAuliffe used in this graphic.