Whit Ayres, January 29

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Daily Caller on Republican electoral prospects in the face of changing demographics:

Republican pollster Whit Ayres points out that President Bush got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, including a majority of Sunbelt Hispanics. “It’s no coincidence that he was the last Republican nominee for president to win a majority of the vote (in 2004),” Ayers says. “The changing demographics of the country demand Republicans do better with Hispanics if they hope to win nationally. The numbers are the numbers.”

Trump won the presidency with 46.2 percent of the vote, less than the 47.2 percent Mitt Romney got in 2012, when he lost the presidency.

To read the full article, please click here.

The Virginia Election in Six Charts

Democratic nominee Ralph Northam won the 2017 election for Governor of Virginia by the unexpectedly large margin of nine percentage points, 54 to 45 percent. Unlike the Rustbelt states voting for President in 2016, few counties switched from Democrat to Republican since the last Virginia gubernatorial election in 2013. Instead the surprising margin was caused by presidential-level turnout in formerly-Republican suburban counties. Tens of thousands of new gubernatorial voters driven by college-educated women, millennials, and minorities supported the Democratic candidate. Six charts tell the story.

Two rural counties in the Shenandoah Valley are typical of other rural counties throughout Virginia. Augusta County continued its strongly Republican voting pattern, and generated more votes for Republican Ed Gillespie than even for the victorious Republican Bob McDonnell in 2009, or for Gillespie when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

The same pattern holds for Roanoke County farther south in the Valley (the City of Roanoke is not included in these numbers). Gillespie received more votes in 2017 in Roanoke County than any Virginia Republican ever in a non-presidential election.

Gillespie did not lose because of lack of Republican enthusiasm for his candidacy. Despite fears of some critics that Gillespie keeping his distance from Donald Trump would depress Republican turnout, that clearly was not the case. So why did Gillespie lose? The next three charts paint a vivid and, for Republicans, challenging picture.

Fairfax County in northern Virginia is far and away the largest county in the state, home to over one million people. In years past it was a competitive but reliable Republican county. Republican Bob McDonnell won the county in 2009 by 4,466 votes. Fairfax switched to supporting the Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe in the 2013 governor’s race by 68,065 votes. But in 2017 turnout exploded, and Northam swamped Gillespie in Fairfax County by 138,059 votes.

Loudoun County, just west of Fairfax in northern Virginia, has surged in population since 2010, and is now the fastest growing county in the state. Loudoun used to be a reliably Republican county that McDonnell carried comfortably in 2009 by 14,566 votes. Gillespie won the county narrowly in 2014 in his Senate race against Mark Warner. But in 2017 Loudoun followed Fairfax with an explosion of Democratic votes. Gillespie actually won 896 more Loudoun votes in 2017 than he did in 2014, but he was crushed by the surging Democratic turnout, losing Loudoun in 2017 by 23,392 votes.

Because the counties where Democrats surged are so much larger than those that continued to vote Republican, the statewide trends reflect those of Fairfax and Loudoun. In only eight years Republicans have gone from winning the Virginia governor’s office in 2009 by 344,614 votes to losing it in 2017 by 233,444 votes. Ed Gillespie won more votes than any Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia history, including 12,208 more than the victorious McDonnell in 2009. Yet he was swamped by the historic Democratic turnout.

Who are these voters who surged to the Virginia polls in 2017? It’s hard to imagine the bland candidacy of Ralph Northam generating this level of enthusiasm. Exit polls indicate that the surge came from voters who were trying to send a message to Donald Trump.

Gillespie won overwhelmingly–56 to 41 percent–among the 47 percent of Virginia voters who said Trump was not a factor in their vote. In other words, Gillespie won by double digits among voters who were choosing between the two candidates for governor.

The remaining voters used their gubernatorial ballot to send a message to Donald Trump. Twice as many–34 to 17 percent–sent a message of opposition rather than support. And among those opposing Trump, Northam won 97 percent of their votes. Ed Gillespie lost the governor’s race not because of his campaign, but because one-third of Virginia voters were trying to send a message of opposition to Donald Trump.

What does this mean for Republican candidates in 2018?

It means that every Republican candidate in 2018 will be viewed through a Trump filter. That will not be a problem in districts where Trump enjoys majority job approval. The strategy in these districts writes itself–the Republican is running to support the President, and the Democrat is running to oppose him.

But viewing Republicans through a Trump filter creates a real challenge for Republicans in states and districts where a majority disapprove of the President’s job performance. In those districts, Republicans will need a relentless focus on localizing the race. Republican candidates in districts opposing Trump need to increase the proportion of the electorate that makes a decision between the two candidates on the ballot, not use their ballot to send a message to the President.

Mid-year elections are almost always difficult for the party in power. The 2017 results in Virginia indicate that Republican candidates need to run particularly strong and well-funded races to withstand the headwinds they will face in many states and districts in 2018.

Whit Ayres, December 14

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Wall Street Journal regarding the Alabama special election and what it means for next year’s midterm elections:

“Obviously, the primary responsibility lies with a deeply flawed Republican candidate,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

But he said results in Alabama—and in Virginia’s race for governor, which Democrats won—also showed that some voters were turning against the GOP under President Donald Trump’s leadership, ”particularly college-educated, suburban women.”

That trend carries “troubling implications” for the GOP in next year’s elections, he said.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, November 9

Whit Ayres’ comments to Reuters regarding Republican support and geography:

Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster based in Virginia, said the party was on a risky track. ”Republicans have traded fast-growing upscale suburban counties for slow-growing or declining rural areas. That is not a formula for long-term success.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, May 31

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Atlantic regarding challenges for Republicans and Democrats amid demographic change:

“The long-term challenge for Republicans remains unchanged: They still have to figure out how to appeal to the growing proportion of the electorate that is non- white and college-educated,” said GOP pollster Whit Ayres, who worked during the Republican primaries for Trump rival Marco Rubio, the Florida senator. “Trump managed to slip the punch for one election, but that changed nothing about the long-term challenge. For the Democrats … they have to [find] a substantive message that appeals beyond identity politics, and they haven’t figured that out yet.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, November 29

Whit Ayres’ column in US News on the challenges facing Republicans:

Providence has provided Republicans with an unexpected opportunity to accomplish goals many have wanted for years, by delivering control of both the presidency and Congress to the GOP. But our 2016 success should not blind us to the long-term challenges facing the party.

President-elect Donald Trump’s loss to Hillary Clinton in the popular vote means that Republicans have lost the popular vote for six of the last seven presidential elections. Trump won by threading a needle in the Electoral College, carrying four large states by one percentage point or less: Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, a total of 75 electoral votes.

To read the full column, please click here.

Whit Ayres, November 23

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Wall Street Journal regarding the presidential election and race:

“Trump switched white voters in key states who were blue-collar primarily—coal counties, manufacturing counties,” the Republican strategist Whit Ayres told me this week. “These are blue-collar whites who voted for Barack Obama. And that’s a very uncomfortable thing to admit by the left. It’s much easier to say a ‘basket of deplorables’ elected Trump. But I’m sorry, that just does not conform to the data in those states that made a major swing from one party to the other.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres on CNN’s Party People Podcast

Whit Ayres joined Mary Katherine Ham and Kevin Madden on their Party People podcast to discuss Republican efforts to appeal beyond the base.

To read the article, please click here.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Whit Ayres, August 26

Whit Ayres’ comments to the Associated Press on voter attitudes regarding immigration reform:

“The electorate is conflicted and that’s a fundamental problem,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster. “This is such an emotional issue that reason and facts have very little to do with how people stand.” …

Ayres recalled a focus group in the Deep South during which conservative voters complained about illegal immigrants. One man said he wanted them to pay taxes, work and learn English. Ayres told the man that was precisely the bipartisan proposal that had passed the Senate in 2013 and was being held up in the Republican-controlled House. “But that’s amnesty,” the man responded. “I don’t support that.”

“That’s when I turned around and cracked my head against the wall,” Ayres said.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, August 25

Whit Ayres’ comments in The New York Times regarding Donald Trump’s approach to immigration:

“He finally figured out that you can’t win a national election with just white voters,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster who worked for Mr. Rubio’s campaign.

To read the full article, please click here.