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Map: Turnout was up for Tuesday's elections. It benefited Republicans

Tuesday’s results show that high turnout doesn’t always mean Democratic victory
Image: Glenn Youngkin at an election-night rally on Nov. 2, 2021 in Chantilly, Va.
Glenn Youngkin at an election-night rally on Nov. 2, 2021 in Chantilly, Va.Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

Voter turnout surged Tuesday in Virginia and New Jersey compared to previous non-presidential elections, and Republicans got the bigger boost.

An NBC News analysis of county-level data from governors’ races in both states showed that a tide of energized voters pushed Republicans to victory in Virginia and led to an unexpectedly close race in New Jersey.

In Virginia, the total number of ballots cast Tuesday was 26 percent higher than four years ago, and turnout increased in all but one county. The increase was highest in counties that have voted reliably Republican.

The 10 counties with the highest increase in vote totals — where turnout was 43 to 51 percent higher than 2017 — were all won by Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin on Tuesday night. These districts have gone to Republicans in recent years, voting for GOP candidates in 2017 and 2020 and favoring Youngkin by a median margin of 35 points Tuesday.

It’s not that Democratic voters stayed home, as turnout was higher in all but one county won by Democrat Terry McAuliffe. But the Republican vote helped the party overcome increased turnout from Democratic voters and caused Youngkin to flip nine counties that Democrats won in 2017 and 12 that President Joe Biden carried last year.

The same pattern held in New Jersey, where turnout rose in 20 of the state’s 21 counties. Republicans won eight of the 10 counties that had the biggest vote gains compared to 2017, allowing the party to flip three counties that Gov. Phil Murphy won four years ago.

Democrats expected a close race in Virginia, but the outcome there and in New Jersey, coupled with the high turnout, suggest that Democrats may have to contend with an energized Republican voter base in next year’s midterm elections.