Next Tuesday, voters across Virginia will cast their ballots in the 2021 general election. While all indicators point to a close race, early vote returns so far look promising for Democrats.

Using TargetSmart’s TargetEarly dashboard, we are able to analyze a wealth of data about who has already voted in Virginia and compare it to the early vote electorate in previous cycles. Here’s what we know so far:

As you might expect, the early vote is up. Way up.

So far, 655,297 people have voted in Virginia, compared to just 189,891 people who voted early in all of 2017 (the last comparable gubernatorial election). This surge in early voting is due in large part to the efforts the state has made to make voting safer and easier during the pandemic. But when we take a closer look at who has voted, it also tells a compelling story.

Of the 655,297 voters, 54.6% are modeled as likely Democratic voters, compared to 30.5% who are modeled Republicans. In 2017, 48.6% of early votes cast were modeled Democratic and 42.1% were modeled Republican. This growth in the modeled Democratic share of the early vote provides further evidence that adoption of early vote since 2020 could continue to disproportionately skew Democratic, although changes over time to our partisan model may also explain some of this fluctuation. Regardless, Republicans are likely already working with a large vote deficit – whether they will make up the difference on election day remains to be seen.

This year, more than 1 in 3 votes cast in the state have come from likely Democratic voters in the vote-rich DC media market. However, in 2017, more than half of all early votes were cast in the DC market (102,288). Democratic strongholds outside of northern Virginia have made up the slack – Richmond City total early turnout is 8.6 times what we saw nine days out in 2017 (14,515 vs. 1,679), and voters in Albemarle County have cast 7.7 times as many ballots in 2021 as they had nine days out in 2017 (11,314 vs. 1,528). In both locations, modeled Democratic share of the vote has grown since 2017.

Additionally, more than 1 in 4 votes cast so far (173,912) have been cast by people who did not vote in 2017. Of those voters, likely Democratic voters account for 47.4% of votes cast, compared to 26.8% likely Republican.

The racial composition of the electorate is just as noteworthy.

Nearly 12% of votes cast thus far have been cast by African American voters, a nearly 4% jump from the final early vote in 2017. This overall increase mirrors the geographic trends we see on the partisan front, where African American turnout has increased more rapidly in Richmond and other areas outside of northern Virginia but has underperformed in the DC suburbs.

Meanwhile, the overall share of white voters has decreased by 4%. Interestingly, the decline in white turnout is largely from non-college educated whites, while college educated whites have maintained a similar vote share. (Hispanic voters are largely holding steady and there is a slight downtick in AAPI voters.)

One potential concerning sign for Democrats is the performance of the youth vote. While the projected Democratic share of the early vote among ages 18-29 (61.4%) is 6 points higher than nine days out in 2017 (55%), overall turnout growth in this age group has not kept pace with the rest of the electorate. Voters ages 18-29 made up 9.7% of the electorate nine days out in 2017, compared with only 5.9% in 2021.

Over the next week, we will continue to analyze the returns and share periodic updates. You can follow along and do your own analysis at TargetEarly.

Feel free to email me with questions or DM me on Twitter @TBonier.  

Sincerely, Tom