Democracy, Voter Confidence, and Electoral Integrity in Virginia
When Virginians made their way to the polls in November 2021 to choose their next governor, they did so following a campaign that had been as partisan and polarized as ever. With Democrat Terry McAuliﬀe and Republican Glenn Youngkin essentially tied in the polls, the candidates spent the ﬁnal days of the race hoping to mobilize their respective bases with pitched partisan appeals.
Despite the partisan discord, the results of our statewide survey of registered voters in Virginia suggest that Democrats and Republicans actually agreed on something: They had overwhelmingly positive Election Day experiences. Unfortunately, as the data we present in the pages that follow illustrate, those personal experiences were limited in shaping overall conﬁdence in elections and the state of democracy. Instead, national narratives played a signiﬁcant role in shaping voters’ attitudes about the 2021 elections, as did the outcome of the governor’s race.
- As voters readied to cast their ballots in 2021, the overwhelming majority of Democrats were “conﬁdent” or “very conﬁdent” that votes in Virginia would be counted as voters intended. In contrast, a majority of Virginia Republicans were “not conﬁdent” that U.S. elections reﬂect the will of the people.
- Most voters – Democrats and Republicans alike – reported very positive voting experiences in 2020, so the partisan gap in conﬁdence was not fueled by ﬁrsthand accounts of election fraud or problems casting a ballot.
- Instead, allegations of election fraud and rigged elections by national Republicans, which featured prominently in the Virginia governor’s race, resonated with Republican voters.
- Republican voters’ conﬁdence in electoral integrity improved signiﬁcantly after Republican victories in 2021. In the absence of claims of election fraud from the national Republican Party, neither party’s voters had much reason to doubt the results.
- Given the precarious state of conﬁdence in U.S. elections, reforms that might help bolster voters’ conﬁdence are essential, and some potential changes even received bipartisan support among our survey respondents.
Jennifer L. Lawless
Leone Reaves and George W. Spicer Professor of Politics
Department of Politics
University of Virginia