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Democratic struggles with rural and white voters hurt them on Tuesday night

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Voters Cast Ballots In Virginia Governor Election
Campaign signs outside of a polling location in Alexandria, Va., on Nov. 2, 2021.Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Yes, the political environment was rough for Democrats on Tuesday night. Yes, playing the Trump and Jan. 6 cards didn’t work as well as they had hoped. And, yes, Democrats lost independent voters in Virginia, per the exit poll.

But there’s an even more troubling takeaway for Democrats now that the dust has settled on Tuesday’s results: They’re losing white voters, rural voters and voters without college degrees by such large margins that it makes winning elections hard.

Even in diverse and highly educated states like Virginia and New Jersey.

Just look at these numbers:

In Virginia, white men made up 36 percent of the electorate, according to the exit poll, and they broke for Republican Glenn Youngkin over Democrat Terry McAuliffe by a 2-to-1 margin, 66 percent to 34 percent. (In 2017’s gubernatorial contest, it was 63 percent to 36 percent.)

White women, who made up 38 percent of voters in Virginia, sided with Youngkin by 14 points, 57 percent to 43 percent. (In 2017, it was just by 3 points, 51 percent to 48 percent.)

Whites without a college degree, representing 36 percent of voters, went for Youngkin, 76 percent to 24 percent. (In 2017, it was 72 percent to 26 percent.)

And while there was no exit poll in New Jersey, we can see this same trend in Republican Jack Ciattarelli’s performance in the state’s whitest and most rural counties.

If you are losing 36 percent of all voters by a 76 percent-to-24 percent margin, it means you have to win 65 percent of all other voters to get to 50 percent-plus one. (Conversely, if you’re Youngkin and winning these voters by that margin, it means you need to win just 35 percent of all other voters.)

That’s the consequence of being a party that is struggling so mightily to appeal to these voters.

Men at Work

What’s especially striking about Democrats’ math problem with white/rural voters is that it’s continuing during Joe Biden’s presidency.

Look at these numbers from our latest NBC News poll:

  • Biden’s approval among all men: 33 percent approve, 63 percent disapprove (-30)
  • Biden’s approval among men 18-49: 31 percent approve, 64 percent disapprove (-33)
  • Biden’s approval among whites: 33 percent approve, 65 percent disapprove (-32)
  • Biden’s approval among white men: 24 percent approve, 74 percent disapprove (-50)
  • Biden’s approval among white women: 41 percent approve, 57 percent disapprove (-16)
  • Biden’s approval among white men without college degrees: 20 percent approve, 78 percent disapprove (-58)

And look again at those numbers with men. When we talk about gender gaps in American politics, we typically focus on the GOP’s problem with women voters.

But is it time to say that Democrats’ have a math problem with men, when they disapprove of the president’s job performance by a 2-to-1 margin?

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Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

2.3: The drop in life expectancy, in years, by American men in 2020, with the drop for women around 1.6 years per a new study that found the U.S.’s drop the second-most behind Russia out of the 31 countries studied.

36.4 billion: The number of metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted in the first nine months of 2021, about on par with 2019, and after a 2020 dip thanks to the pandemic.

46,271,540: The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 94,696 more since yesterday morning.)

753,699: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 1,869 more since yesterday morning.)

425,272,828: The number of total vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 1,330,034 more since yesterday morning.)

20,608,965: The number of booster vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 825,044 more since yesterday morning.)

58.1 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

69.8 percent: The share of all Americans 18-years and older who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

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ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

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Buffalo Democratic mayoral nominee India Walton conceded to the city’s current mayor, Byron Brown, who ran a write-in campaign after losing the nomination.

Republicans again blocked the Democratic push to bolster sections of the Voting Rights Act and make other changes to election law (Democrats successfully wooed one Republican, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, to their side).

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