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.

 

Demographics

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.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

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.

NoVa

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.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

Polarization: Past and Present

A number of commentators have lamented increasing polarization in Washington. Conventional wisdom has it that America is as divided and partisan as it ever has been. Sectional divisions are tearing this country apart and preventing problems such as the deficit from being addressed; the differences between blue America and red America, in this view, are rapidly approaching crisis point.

There is some justice to this view. Polarization has probably increased, by a number of metrics, over the past few elections. Indeed, I previously noted something to this exact effect.

Let’s take another look, however, at the hypothesis, using a different type of measurement. We will consider the composition of the House of Representatives, specifically examining partisan divisions by state. Do blue states elect Republican representatives, and vice versa? In a polarized nation, this would probably not be the case.

Here is a map of a House with a Republican majority:

This House was the result of 2002 congressional elections. Republicans had done well in the wake of 9/11, and they had a 232-201 majority.

In the map there are relatively few states with 80-100% of representatives from one party. Blue states elect Republicans; red states elect Democrats. Moreover; for some states (e.g. Delaware, the Dakotas) it is mathematically impossible to be less than 100% Democratic or Republican.

Here is the House today:

This is a fascinating map in that it almost perfectly matches the 2008 electoral college. One sees the Republican corridor of strength in the South and Mountain West. Most of the map is blue since Democrats have a 255-178 majority, the result of two previous Democratic landslides.

Let’s move back several decades:

The date is 1960; President John Kennedy has just been elected. Democrats hold a 258-177 majority, almost identical to that today.

There are a lot more “one-party states” compared to the current map. Sectional division is far more pronounced; there is a line between North and South that simply does not exist in today’s House. In 1960 – especially in the still-standing Solid South – blue states generally did not elect Republicans, and vice versa.

Polarization grows even worse if one goes back further.

Here is 1894:

Republicans have just won 130(!) seats. They hold a 254 to 93 majority.

In this incredible map, there are only six states with congressional delegations less than 80-100% from one party. In it one can literally trace the battlefields of the Civil War.

This is real polarization, the results of a nation so divided it had literally torn itself in two. This is the type of polarization that results from scars so deep that they took more than a century to heal.

Perhaps today America is indeed growing more polarized, more divided into red states and blue states. But when one compares the present situation to past ones, there is literally no comparison. The United States has a long way to go before it gets as polarized as it did during the latter half of the 19th century.

--Inoljt, http://motleymoose.com/

 

Previewing Senate Elections: Illinois

This is the first part of a series of posts analyzing competitive Senate elections in blue states. The second part can be found here.

Illinois

In November 2010, Democratic State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias will face off against Republican Congressman Mark Kirk, in what looks to be a competitive Senate race. A heavily blue state, Democrats have been hurt by a bad national environment coupled with continuing fall-out from the Rod Blagojevich scandals.

Out of the three states being analyzed (the other two being California and New York), Illinois is the state in which Republicans are strongest. Out of the three, it is also the state with the most competitive forthcoming election. This post will analyze the political contours of the state, and the long and difficult path Mr. Kirk must tread for victory.

Illinois, 2008

With respect to demographics, Illinois is structured very simply. It has three parts: Chicago, its suburban metropolis, and the mostly rural downstate.

To win, Congressman Mark Kirk will need to run a gauntlet of challenges in each of section of the state. He must capitalize on Republican strength downstate, revive it in the suburbs, and hope that Chicago turn-out is depressed. If done properly, this will result in a close-run, Scott-Brown type victory.

Downstate Illinois

Mr. Kirk’s easiest task should be here.  Much of downstate Illinois has more in common with Kentucky and Missouri than far-north Chicago. Like these two states, the region has been trending Republican: Bill Clinton did far better than Barack Obama here.

There are several complicating factors. Downstate Illinois has several population centers – but these cities tend to vote less Republican (they all voted for Obama, for instance). Moreover, Mr. Kirk hails from the Chicago metropolis and has a reputation as a moderate congressman; he may not play too well with rural conservatives.

Nevertheless, the region constitutes the Republican base, and Mr. Kirk will need every vote he can get. He should be able to win downstate Illinois quite comfortably. He will have to. After all, President George W. Bush won practically every single county here – and he lost Illinois by double-digits.

Chicago’s Suburbs

The true test of Mark Kirk’s candidacy will come in the Chicago suburbs. His task is doable, but not exactly easy.

There is good news and bad news for Republicans. First the good news: unlike other solidly blue states, the Chicago suburbs still vote Republican. Like Orange County, for years their strength kept Republicans competitive in Illinois. Take a look at suburban DuPage County:

(Note: A negative margin indicates that Democrats lost Cook County, or that Republicans lost DuPage County.)

Even after Democrats started winning suburbs, during President Bill Clinton’s time, Chicago’s suburbs continued voting Republican. In 2004, for instance, George Bush won DuPage county by a little less than 10%.

The bad news for Republicans is that each election, they win the suburbs by a little less. In 2008 President Barack Obama swept DuPage County and the rest of Chicago’s suburbs by double-digits. This victory constituted the culmulation of decades of leftward movement.

The test for Mr. Kirk is the extent to which he can reverse this trend. He will not just have to win the suburbs, but turn the clock back two decades – back to the glory years in which Republicans won around 70% of the vote in DuPage County. (Mr. Kirk will probably not have to do that well, given rising Republican strength downstate.)

Is this doable? Given that Republicans seem to be winning suburbs everywhere this year, it is certainly possible. Mr. Kirk, moreover, has spent a decade representing a Chicago suburb congressional district; this is why Republicans have nominated him.

Chicago

43.3% of Illinois residents live in Cook County, home to America’s third-largest city. Of these, half call Chicago home; the other half live in an inner ring of suburbs.

If God decided to create the ideal Democratic stronghold, he would get something like Chicago. The city is heavily populated by black and Latino minorities, mixed together with a dollop of white liberals. As a cherry on top, it is also home to President Barack Obama – and Chicagoans are highly aware of this fact.

Whether he loses or wins by a landslide, Mark Kirk will not win Cook County. He will just have to take the blow, cross his fingers, and pray that minority turn-out is low (as it has been, this year). That is not a good strategy, but it is the best Republicans can do when 89% of them are white, and they are competing in a minority-majority city.

Conclusions

So what does Mr. Kirk have to do? Say that he gets 35% of the vote in Cook County – propelled by inner-ring suburban strength and minority apathy – and wins a landslide everywhere else in the state (for instance, a 3:2 margin). This gives him 50.3% of the vote in the 2008 Illinois electorate. If white Republicans downstate turn out, and minorities in Chicago do not, Mr. Kirk may get bumped up to a 2-3% victory.

One hypothetical:

As we will see, this task is easier compared to the challenges Republicans face in California and New York. In Illinois they can (barely) get away with a white-only coalition. In California Republicans absolutely must win minorities – a novel challenge. As for New York – it is similar to Illinois, except that New York City is double the size of Chicago. And upstate New York is trending Democratic.

--Inoljt

 

Previewing Senate Elections

Over the next few posts I will be previewing a select few competitive Senate elections. These posts will focus less on individual personalities and more on overarching state dynamics – what parts of the state vote Democratic, swing, and vote Republican.

These states will be mainly Democratic strongholds, rather than swing states, because this election cycle is the first in many in which they have been competitive. Another opportunity for analyzing these places will probably not occur for a while.

I am specifically talking about Illinois, New York, and California. Each state has different qualities: some are moving Democratic, parts of others are moving Republican. Versus Massachusetts, Democrats have several advantages. Big cities are a major factor in all three states, and high percentages of minorities live there. These compose the core of Mr. Obama’s strength.

On the other hand, Republicans have one distinct advantage over Massachusetts. In Massachusetts there were only two types of voters: Democrats and Independents. Illinois, New York, and California all have another type of voter. These are commonly called “Republicans.”

In comparison to my series analyzing swing states, I hope to keep these posts relatively short and simple. First off will be Illinois, where Congressman Mark Kirk looks set to run an extremely close race with Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.

Diaries

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