ELECTION 2009: How voter turnout decided the Virginia governor's race

Of all the hype and spin attempting to explain this week's Virginia governor's race, which saw Republican Bob McDonnell score a resounding victory over Democrat Creigh Deeds, the most convincing argument comes down to this: voter turnout.

As Larry Sabato notes today, turnout for the Virginia governor's race was the lowest since 1969:
The 2009 turnout of 39.8 percent of theregistered voters was the lowest in forty years. Even with all thepopulation growth since 2005, the absolute voter turnout in 2009 (1.97million) fell below that of four years ago (2.0 million). And theelectorate was barely more than half that of 2008 (3.7 million).Astounding.
To put it in exact numbers, the number of registered Virginians who voted for governor in 2009 was 53% of the number who voted for president in 2008.

And who didn't go vote? I pointed out yesterday that the Virginia youth vote -- a critical piece of the "new majority" key to electing Democrats in Southern states -- tracked almost perfectly with the overall decline: Virginia's under-30 vote dropped by half between 2008 and 2009, while the 60+ vote doubled.

The same was true for African-American and Latino voters, so critical to Obama's victory in Virginia last year. According to Nate Silver at 538.com, the share of Virginia voters that were voters of color dropped from 30 to 22 percent between 2008 and 2009.

Without Obama at the top of the ticket, young voters and African-American and Latino voters weren't motivated -- a reality likely exacerbated by Deeds' distancing himself from Obama and progressives. But older and whiter voters -- the ones who didn't support Obama last year, and who don't now -- made a point of getting to the polls.