2021 Elections: Narrower Margins but Fewer “Close Calls”

A recent report by Ballotpedia has finished examining the results and races of last year’s state legislative chambers. There were a handful of shocking “swing state” surprises, but overall, races in this election were decided by narrower margins. This showcases the shifting priorities experienced across the United States and increases the uncertainty of the upcoming midterm elections.

What is the Margin of Victory?

In an election, the “margin of victory” is the difference between the vote share received by the winner minus the vote share of the closest runner-up. For example, in a two-candidate election where the winner gets 60% of the vote and the runner-up gets 40% of all casted votes, then the margin of victory is 20%.

Meanwhile, in a four-candidate race, where the winner gets 35% of the votes, the second-place finisher gets 30%, and the other two candidates combined get another 35%, the margin of victory is just 5%.

Margins of victory tell us two things: first, the degree of widespread support a candidate enjoys – and by extension, the relative safety of the seat for the next election cycle. Candidates that win with narrow margins of 5% or less are likely to face continuous opposition and questioning. They may not feel free to enact the same bills as those with a solid base. They may also have a more challenging time securing donations or private-sector support, as they are not seen as a “safe bet” with a good investment return.

Second, the way margins shift between election cycles is also telling. This is particularly important for State elections, which generally have lower turnovers. Abrupt changes in a state’s victory margins usually follow widespread disenchantment, grassroots efforts that went under the radar, or a change in the make-up of the population that cares enough to vote. They tell us just as much about who is voting as about who is being voted for.

A Brief Summary of the 2021 Elections

The 2021 state elections decided the fates of 220 seats across two states: New Jersey (which elected a new State Senate and a new General Assembly) and Virginia (which reshuffled its House of Delegates).

Both New Jersey and Virginia are middle-income states, which, despite being located on the solidly blue East Coast, are often considered key battleground states.

According to Ballotpedia’s report, the average margin of victory across all three elections was 23.6%. This is a slight decrease from the previous election, where the average victory margin was 26%. Seats won by Democrats were usually slightly more comfortable than those won by Republican candidates: on average, Democrats won with a margin of 25.7%, while Republican candidates only had a margin of 21.2%

However, 46 seats were decided with narrow margins of 10% or less. In addition, a State-by-State analysis reveals a few more interesting surprises that could help predict 2022 results.

Results by state

The New Jersey General Assembly has the narrowest margin of all three bodies, with an average of just 13%. However, their State Senate compensated for this, with an average of 26.1%.

This State is quickly turning out into a headache for Democrats. All incumbents who were not reelected (2 on the Upper Chamber and 5 on the General Assembly) were democrats.

On the other hand, the Virginia elections were more mixed. Twenty-five seats had been flagged as swing or battleground seats in this state, and Democrats held onto most of them, but they also lost 7incubent seats, which went to Republican representatives.

For 2022, Watch out for These Three Seats

Finally, there were three seats, all won by Republicans, where the election was decided by 0.5% or less. These are:

  • New Jersey’s District 11 (suburban Northern New Jersey)
  • Virginia’s District 91 (City of Poquoson)
  • Virginia’s District 85 (Virginia Beach)

In the case of District 91, the final difference was just 94 votes. This could pose future trouble for winner Aijalon Cordoza, but a fertile ground for citizen activism and fundraising activities. It will be interesting to see whether these margins consolidate or turn the other way this November.

Grassroots Pulse covers public policy and political issues aimed at engaging highly-active policy makers, donors, and grassroots leaders at the forefront of the political process in America today.

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