We’ve gone through most of the swing states we planned on covering from the “true swing” category – all that remains are Virginia, Florida and Hew Hampshire.
So let’s get to it with the extremely complex state in which the RightFans clan makes its home – Virginia. The home of Presidents best known for its modern day population diversity, its heralded post-secondary education system, its deeply divided state legislature, and its role in the American Civil War as the beachhead of the Confederacy – a legacy that in some corners still lingers. It’s the birthplace of General Lee, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, among other big figures in American history, and it has always been at the crossroads of competing cultures – once North and South, now elite and rural (not to mention the presence of a strong military contingent, a large and active Asian immigrant bloc and the rise of Hispanic immigration to give it even more color).
Remember how Ohio achieved barometer status by being the Midwest in a tight, heavily populated package? Virginia has a similar patchwork demographic pattern – it’s an amalgam between Appalachia, the deep south, and the Northeast. I’ll mark out those regions when we take a look at the maps.
- Norfolk/Virginia Beach/Newport News (~10% of vote – leans left slightly overall)
- Richmond (~2.5% of vote – very liberal)
- Fairfax/Arlington/Alexandria (~19-20% of vote and rapidly declining – solidly liberal)
- Roanoke/Lynchburg (~3-3.5% of vote – leans right)
- Charlottesville (~2% of vote – solidly liberal)
Montgomery (home of Blacksburg and Virginia Tech) – this may be a fluke. The county happened to experience a surge in youth voting from the college at the same time the state as a whole tipped way left due to increased voter turnout in the urban areas and government sector (Northern VA suburbs of DC) – two things that aren’t completely unrelated but probably cannot be counted on to perfectly correlate going forward. Here’s a list of runner up counties/cities that crack the top twelve in terms of mean absolute error:
- Montgomery County (1.26) – SW VA
- Essex County (1.38) – SE VA
- City of Hopewell (1.80) – Tidewater VA
- City of Radford (1.91) – SW VA
- Buckingham County (2.13) – Central VA
- King and Queen County (2.18) – Tidewater VA
- Henrico County (2.19) – Richmond Suburbs
- City of Winchester (2.20) – Shenandoah Valley
- City of Manassas (2.35) – Northern VA
- Loudon County (2.46) – Northern VA
- Chesapeake County (2.49) – SE VA
- Prince William County (2.83) – Northern VA
All regions are well represented, and each region is trending the way it does for different reasons. In the Tidewater area, the leftward lurch of 2008 in otherwise conservative-leaning areas can be explained by the combination of increased African American turnout and increased turnout in liberal college campuses among youths (VA has many college towns in the Tidewater region). In the Richmond and Norfolk suburbs, African American turnout spiked as it did through the Southern states. In Northern VA, the trend is leftward generally, but it really stands out in the expanding suburbs which used to vote Republican and, as suburban sprawl takes Fairfax County voters outward, now vote further left. And in the rural Western parts of the state, the few counties that tipped leftward did so either due to increased youth turnout or increased turnout by union members who had been voting more conservatively but were still registered democrats.
The picture, however, is pretty darned complicated – and here it is:
Three cycle average county slant: 2000-2008
One thing to point out with this map – it’s a little deceptive because Virginia does something no other state in the union does – it reports its incorporated towns and cities separately when it tallies the final vote totals by county. There are a few major cities in other parts of the county that get reported separately (St. Louis City vs. County, Baltimore City vs. County, etc), but in VA, there are 39 incorporated towns and cities that report separately – often the lone population cluster in a rural county will report separately from the sticks. So, for example, in Appalachia, whereas in WV, the voting pattern is largely centered on slant group 2 (conservative leaners), here it looks mostly very conservative (group 1), but the tiny dots you see peppering the state vote to the left of the counties in which they reside most of the time and if, as is done in WV or OH or PA, you report the county votes INCLUDING the incorporated cities, you’ll get a lot more pink than red.
Let’s have a look at the trend analysis:
Appalachia generally continued a gradual slide toward an increasingly conservative vote, especially in the panhandle while Northern Virginia drifted further left than the rest of the state (except Charlottesville – a town benefiting from more Federal funding than usual due to an active research industry), but it is important to point out that the people fleeing Fairfax county are not, in fact, as liberal as the people staying put, since Fairfax slammed HARD to the left (by almost 10 points more than the nation as a whole did) while the other suburban counties gently nudged left, implying that despite the sprawl I mentioned above, the outer ring suburbs of DC are not yet lost to Republicans. In fact, the people on the ground in Virginia have been telling me that Romney enthusiasm even in increasingly liberal places like Prince William and Loudon Counties is quite high and more visible than current Obama support, for what that’s worth.
Let’s chart out the state’s slant group and population drift over the last three cycles for your benefit as well (remember, this chart lists three-cycle slant groups, voting percentages in 2000, 2004 and 2008, and then voting slant in the group in 2000, 2004 and 2008):
The conservative parts of VA generally held the line and remained conservative, not giving a large bounce to Obama, but swing and liberal counties leaned far to the left, giving Obama a 7-9 point bounce in over half of the state’s electorate. This, combined with the population move away from Fairfax and into Prince William, Loudon, and Fauquier counties (accounting for the entire shift from left-leaners to swing counties) makes the swing counties even more critical now than they were before Obama’s Presidency. So keep your eye on the outer ring suburbs of DC, Richmond, and Norfolk on election night…you’ll learn a lot doing that.