Analyzing Swing States: Virginia, Part 4

This is the fourth part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Virginia. It is the second section of two focusing on Northern Virginia, and focuses on analyzing the structural foundation behind NoVa’s Democratic shift. The fifth part can be found here.



In many ways, Northern Virginia represents the best America has to offer. As wealthy, diverse, and rapidly growing suburb, it offers the very essence of the American Dream.

Demographically, Northern Virginia is one of those rare places whose racial composition is representative of America as a whole. In Fairfax County today blacks constitute 9.4% of the population, Hispanics 13.5% (nationally the numbers are 12.3% and 15.1%, respectively). Asians come in at 15.8%, a higher number than the national average.

As has been much noted, Northern Virginia is getting more diverse. In Fairfax County, for instance, the numbers of blacks, Hispanics, and Asians have all increased since the 2000 census – which counted blacks as 8.6%, Hispanics as 11.0%, and Asians as 13.0% of the population.

These changes are especially striking in exurban NoVa. Loudoun County, 2000 was 5.9% Asian and 5.3% Hispanic. Since then those numbers have more than doubled; from 2006-2008, the census estimated Loudoun as 12.3% Asian and 10.1% Hispanic (blacks constituted 7.8% of the county’s population).

Finally, Northern Virginia is very, very, very rich. The median household income in both Fairfax and Loudoun exceeds $100,000; a 2008 census study estimated them as the two wealthiest counties in America (see page 13). More than one-third of individuals over 25 in Arlington County hold graduate degrees, compared with less than 10% of Americans at large. Life expectancy is the highest in the nation.

The Future

Although Northern Virginia continues become more diverse, it is unclear how much more Democratic it can get. Suburbs rarely give a party more than 60% of the vote, and 65% seems to be the upper limit for Democrats. Given that President Barack Obama won 60.12% in Fairfax County, Democrats appear to be near this line.

On the other hand, the suburban metropolis that does break this rule (the Bay Area) has a lot in common with Northern Virginia. Like NoVa, the Bay Area is rich, diverse, and growing. But the Bay is also composed of a majority of minorities; this will not happen anytime soon in Northern Virginia.

Moreover, Virginia is missing the one piece that would truly make it a Democratic stronghold. Democratic suburbs like NoVa often surround poor, astonishingly Democratic cities. The good news is that NoVa does surround such a city – and that city gave Democrats 92.46% of its vote in 2008. The bad news is that the city’s name is Washington D.C.

All this may not matter, however, if Northern Virginia continues its rapid growth. Today the exurbs in Loudoun and Prince Williams are the main sites of development, while Fairfax County’s growth appears to have slowed down. This translates into many more voters:

As Loudoun and Prince Williams become more diverse, moreover, they are been voting ever more Democratic. In 2000 Loudoun voted Republican by a 8.25% margin; in 2008 it voted Democratic by a 15.22% margin.

If Northern Virginia continues growing at this rate – and voting Democratic by a 3-2 margin – Virginia may eventually change into a Democratic-leaning state. This will probably be balanced out as other Democratic states naturally turn Republican-leaning. Nevertheless, adding NoVa to the old Democratic base leaves the Democratic Party in strong shape. That traditional base will be the subject of the next post.



Analyzing Swing States: Virginia, Part 3

This is the third part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Virginia. It is the first section of two focusing on Northern Virginia. The fourth part can be found here.


A vast and growing suburban metropolis, Northern Virginia has become increasingly important in Virginia politics. There, demographic changes have imperiled Republican dominance of Virginia.

To illustrate the exceptional nature of this movement, compare the two elections below. Here is 2000:

Governor George W. Bush has won Virginia by a comfortable 8.1% margin, carving out the traditional Republican coalition of rural and suburban Virginia. As this picture indicates, Virginia Democrats in 2000 really don’t have a base of support, except perhaps the heavily black southeast parts of the state.

Eight years later, Northern Virginia has transformed:

Before digging into the dynamics of modern NoVa, it is worth exploring its past behavior to gain a sense of context.

A History

Northern Virginia was not always as populous as it is today; well into the twentieth century, it remained a rural (and heavily Democratic) backwater. In the 1940 presidential election, for instance, less than 10,000 people voted in Arlington County.

Growth began in the 1940s, however, driven by an ever-expanding federal government. The inner-ring suburbs in Arlington started expanding first, followed by Fairfax County in the 1950s. Like many other white and wealthy suburbs, Northern Virginia leaned Republican during this era.

Unlike some suburbs, however, Northern Virginia never fell in love with Republicanism. In Fairfax County, Republican presidential candidates only once took more than 65% of the vote (in 1972) – something which would regularly happen in a place like Chesterfield County, a suburb of Richmond.

Change first began in the 1980s, when inner-ring suburbs such as Arlington started voting Democratic. In the 2000 map, one sees Arlington County as the lonely blue bubble to the right of Fairfax County.

By 2000, as the graph above indicates, change was coming to the suburban communities in Fairfax. In 2004 the county voted Democratic by a 7.30% margin, which should have been a warning sign to Republicans. A mere two years later, it powered Democratic candidate Jim Webb to a narrow victory over incumbent Senator George Allen (he won the county by 18.9%). In 2008 Fairfax – well, just look at the map to see what happened in 2008.

In just eight short years, Northern Virginia has turned from a Republican-leaning suburb into a fundamental part of the Democratic base. Virginia has changed from a red state into a purple one, due mainly (but not entirely) to Northern Virginia.

The next post will explore Northern Virginia today – in order to get a sense of how this has happened.



Special Elections in Fairfax County and Alexandria, VA

Sorry this is such short notice, but for those of you who live in the 46th House of Delegates District (Skyline area of Fairfax County, and Western City of Alexandria), you have a special election tomorrow, January 13th, to replace Delegate Brian Moran who is running for Governor.

Your ballot will be:

Blue Commonwealth has a map of the district in case you are not sure.  The district trends Democratic by a very wide margin, but in a special election for just one local seat the turnout is likely to be abysmally low and the Republicans have a pretty good shot at an upset win here.  Please vote if you are in the district.

There is a second special election for all of Fairfax County to elect a new Chairman of the Board of Supervisors.  This one is scheduled for February 3rd, and turnout should be a little better.  According to the Fairfax county board of elections, the ballot will look like:

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