Virginia Governor Betting: Can Republicans Pull An Upset?

Written By Evan Scrimshaw on June 15, 2021

Sunday saw the release of the first non-partisan poll for November’s Virginia governor race. Now seems like a good time to delve into the odds for Virginia governor betting and see whether there is any value to be found.

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The State Of The Race In Virginia Governor Betting

Virginia voted for Joe Biden by a roughly 10% margin in 2020, making it a borderline safe state for Democrats. The last time the GOP won statewide office was 2009. In the intervening 12 years, they haven’t even really come all that close, with the notable exception of the 2014 Senate race.

Democrats remain consensus favorites to retain governorship, both amongst the political pundits and in betting markets. On PredictIt, here’s how the market for the governor of Virginia betting looks:

  • Terry McAuliffe (D): 82 cents (equivalent to -455)
  • Glenn Youngkin (R): 20 cents (+400)

Does the GOP have a real shot at pulling an upset?

History Favors GOP

Four words that say they do: Joe Biden is president.

That might not seem intuitive, but there’s actually a historical precedent for Virginia electing the opposing party from the White House. From 1977 to 2009, that held true, a trend McAuliffe broke in 2013 while Barack Obama was in the White House.

According to the University Of Virginia’s Center For Politics, the average party out of office does around 16% better in the next year’s election than they had done in the presidential election the year before (at least since 1969). That would point to a GOP victory in 2021. Even in 2009, the GOP won by 17% the year after losing the state by 6%, so it can be done.

Sunday’s poll backs up that theory. It only shows the Democrats up 4% despite the GOP fielding the less well-known candidate. Whether that’s enough to get the GOP over the line is a separate question, but the case for the GOP being competitive seems clear.

Related: Learn about betting the 2024 presidential election here

Value Of Polling Remains Questionable

That said, there’s also a case they don’t have much more than a puncher’s chance.

That history I quoted earlier? It may represent a declining trend. In 2006, 16 states elected a governor of a different party than the one they voted for president in 2004. In 2018, that number slid to eight. That lessens the chances of a huge swing against Democrats.

Throw in that Biden remains in favor in Virginia and Democrats are running a popular former governor against a businessman with no political experience, and the case for them cruising to victory comes into focus.

“But what about that poll that said the race was close?” I can hear people asking.

US polling is unreliable on a good day and outright bad on every other day. Even without Donald Trump on the ballot — an oft-quoted reason for polling misses — a poll for the New Mexico 1st Congressional Special election earlier this month wound up off by 9%.

If you want a reason to doubt the early Virginia poll, McAuliffe only got 61% of the Black vote, which went 90% for Biden. Does that mean that you can just “fix” the poll and move on? No, because that assumes everything else is correct, a dubious assumption at best.

Democrats Remain Rightful Favorites In Virginia Governor Betting

So where does this leave us looking at Virginia governor betting? In a Biden +10 state, Democrats are running a popular former incumbent in a state that has leaned ever more toward their party.

The GOP haven’t won here since 2009 and haven’t come close since 2014. In 2017, when people thought they would come close because of some polling, they lost by nearly 9%. Democrats are not running a radical or socialist, and they don’t have a deeply unpopular president bringing them down. The only external poll — which would, if taken at face value, be a warning sign for Democrats — has some real issues with it.

One of the easiest ways to lose money on politics betting in recent years — and trust me, I lost plenty doing this in 2020 — has been to bet on states electing different parties than their favored one to non-presidential offices.

The GOP should do better in November 2021 than they did in 2020, but there’s a cavern between not losing by double digits and winning. They will likely end up somewhere in that cavern.

The case for GOP optimism exists. Respected analysts like Dave Wasserman of Cook Political Report have put the chances of a GOP win above 25%. The problem is, that analysis leans too much on likely irrelevant history and outdated ideas of how competitive Virginia really is.

The state trends ever more blue. Furthermore, McAuliffe proved in 2013 he can buck a bad national trend for Democrats. It’s become harder and harder for underdogs to win these kinds of races. Given all that, a fair assessment of the GOP’s chances would be much less kind, and Democrats should feel very confident about holding this race in November.

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