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Can we use Virginia Football to predict the Virginia governor’s race?

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Kind of, but it’s not a guarantee.

Georgia Tech v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Update, 10:00 p.m.: The table below has been updated to include Tuesday’s results.

With polls opening across the Commonwealth at 6 a.m., Virginians choose a new governor today as term-limited Terry McAuliffe’s four-year administration comes to an end.

It’s expected to be a close race between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie, but if we look at the record books, we might already have an idea of who wins. (No, not really. This is just something I came up with while sleep-deprived on the way to work one day.)

I’m not talking about polls or endorsements from decades past. I’m talking about the (bowl eligible!) Virginia Cavaliers’ performance in their last football game before the election, à la the Redskins Rule.

Between the end of one-party rule in 1969 and 2013, UVA played 12 games in election years. Before laying out the trends, one interesting item of note: the Hoos’ record in the last home game before the election since 1969 (not counting Saturday’s win over Georgia Tech) is 6-6. Republicans and Democrats have split the last 12 elections, 6-6.

Now, on to the numbers.

  • When UVA wins their last game before the election - home or away - the party in power has held onto the seat five times and lost it just once (1981).
  • When UVA loses that game, the results go in the opposite direction: the incumbent party has lost the seat five of six times, the lone exception being 1977.
  • Likewise, for the last home game before the election (regardless of whether it’s the last game before the election), a win has seen the party in power hold on to the seat four of six times, and a loss has “brought in” new leadership four of six times.
  • Moreover, for the last four elections (when the last game before the election has always come at home), the end result is just about cut-and-dry. In 2005, a win over Temple was followed by Democrats retaining the Executive Mansion. Losses in 2001, 2009, and 2013 saw a win three days later by the party that had previously been out of power.

In conclusion, if Northam becomes the Commonwealth’s 73rd Governor, that would be in line with a pattern that stretches back decades. If Gillespie wins, it would be the first time that the “Hoos Rule” has been outright broken since 1981.

The full history:

UVA Football and the Virginia gubernatorial election

Year Last game before election Last home game before election Winning party Gain or hold? "Hoos Rule" upheld?
Year Last game before election Last home game before election Winning party Gain or hold? "Hoos Rule" upheld?
2017 Home win (Georgia Tech, 40-36) N/A D (Northam) Hold Yes
2013 Home loss (Clemson, 59-10) N/A D (McAuliffe) Gain Yes
2009 Home loss (Duke, 28-17) N/A R (McDonnell) Gain Yes
2005 Home win (Temple, 51-3) N/A D (Kaine) Hold Yes
2001 Home loss (Wake Forest, 34-30) N/A D (Warner) Gain Yes
1997 Road win (Maryland, 45-0) Loss (Florida State, 41-27) R (Kilgore) Hold Yes*
1993 Road loss (NC State, 34-29) Win (North Carolina, 17-10) R (Allen) Gain Yes^
1989 Road win (NC State, 20-9) Win (Louisville, 16-15) D (Wilder) Hold Yes
1985 Home win (West Virginia, 27-7) N/A D (Baliles) Hold Yes
1981 Home win (VMI, 13-10) N/A D (Robb) Gain No
1977 Home loss (VMI, 30-6) N/A R (Dalton) Hold No
1973 Home win (North Carolina, 44-40) N/A R (Godwin) Hold Yes
1969 Home loss (North Carolina, 12-0) N/A R (Holton) Gain Yes

*Rule upheld if using last game before election

^Rule upheld if using last home game before election

This article is for entertainment purposes only and should be perceived as neither a partisan political statement nor a scientific indicator of tonight’s outcome. This is probably common sense. And yet here we are making the disclaimer anyway.